The Security Problem

Reprocessing technologies have a major challenge. When nuclear waste is reprocessed, the fissionable elements have to be recovered in a way that prevents them from being used to produce weapons. Part of the commitment of the administration's program is to develop proliferation-resistant technologies. It intends to take waste from one country and ship it to another for reprocessing. Under that plan, waste material will be flying across the globe. If that is to occur, the technology will have to result in materials that are not suitable for an Al-Qaida bomb. When such technologies do become available, they will be incredibly expensive, with just one plant estimated to cost on the order of $7.5 to $30 billion.46 In the end, no matter how many times the fuel is reprocessed, we will still need long-term underground storage, the scope of which would depend on which reprocessing technique is chosen.

Should the United States spend any funds on reprocessing technology research in the next three years, as the DOE has requested? In light of the nonproliferation concerns, the huge cost involved, and the poor track record in this country, we should do so only if we are in a situation that involves a global threat and demands immediate action with no silver bullet available.

Which is exactly our current situation.

This research should be somewhere near the bottom of the totem pole, however—hundreds of other projects are more worthy. But given the risk of global warming, it is reasonable to continue this work. Nuclear energy will never be "clean" in the sense of being pristine, but we cannot eliminate from consideration the possibility that it could one day be a part of the solution, especially if climate problems turn out to be worse than currently anticipated.

To assume a significant role, nuclear reactors will have to become more standardized and more passively safe. Perhaps the biggest reason the industry has been stagnant for years and is actually expected to decline in the next decade, however, is cost. To build the last twenty U.S. reactors cost $3 to $4 billion, or about $3,000 to $4,000 per kilowatt of capacity. This compares to $400 to $600 per kilowatt for the latest gas-fired combined-cycle plants. Six U.S. reactors have actually closed due to their costs of operation.47

One reason reactors are so awesomely expensive is that each one is a customized product. They will become more affordable only when they become more standardized. Westinghouse recently sold China four of its new AP1000 reactors, which can produce 1,100 megawatts with 35 percent fewer pumps, 50 percent fewer valves, and 80 percent less piping. This is unusually good news for our exports picture. Only two major products are sold to China from the United States: jets and nuclear reactors.48

But to become a major factor in the new energy world, nuclear plants would have to be in design now, even before the perfection of new technologies or the resolution of disposal and proliferation concerns, because of the incredibly long permitting and design process. Nuclear plants take many years from conception to first power production. If nuclear reactors are to become a meaningful player in the next two decades, Americans would have to accept them now.

If we do continue research in nuclear, we must also take into consideration the fact that the industry already enjoys an enormous subsidy. The American government has assumed the huge risk of indemnifying the industry for its liabilities in the event of a catastrophe. At some point, a nation can no longer justify continuing to carry an industry on its financial shoulders. We are at that point regarding the nuclear industry. If it comes to a choice between subsidies for new, pristine, and nonthreat-ening technologies such as wind and solar, which are still moving down their cost curve, and a heavily subsidized and always toxic mature technology like nuclear, our support should go to the newest, cleanest technologies first.

Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the fact that the second most powerful force in the universe is the power keeping an atomic nucleus intact. The first most powerful is the human intellect. If we play our cards right, it may one day be possible to split the former cleanly and safely by using the latter.

Ultimately, the question of whether to pursue nuclear research comes down to one issue: Do we have enough guaranteed renewable sources of energy to obviate all our non-CO2 options? The answer is the same as for the question we faced on coal. We have many options, but we do not yet have the guarantees we need. The only guarantee we have is that global warming will eat us alive if we do not call for all hands on deck.

With nuclear energy, however, such major questions persist regarding large-scale deployment that while it may not be unreasonable to continue basic research into their resolution, a wholesale crash program for current deployment would be irresponsible. Returning to the "Princeton wedges" of Pacala and Socolow, to achieve a one-billion-ton reduction using nuclear fission would require tripling total global capacity from the current 17 percent of electricity. This growth would add several thousand tons of plutonium to the world's current stock of approximately 1,000 tons. Such a tripling of disposal and proliferation threats is a major price to pay, and the world does not seem prepared to take on such a challenge wholeheartedly when other, more promising options are waiting in the wings.

So what should we do on this voyage of energy discovery? When the ship is sinking, the wise captain brings all the lifeboats on deck and asks the ship's carpenter to try to make them all seaworthy, even those with dry rot and holes from target practice. As we exhaust the potential of renewable and efficient technologies, coal and nuclear may be lifeboats we need. We ought to find out if they can be made seaworthy. If not, we ought to move on to other boats.

The Apollo Alliance: New Coalitions for Change

Bracken Hendricks

In April 2003 I helped launch the Apollo Alliance at the Campaign for America's Future's annual conference to "Take Back America" in Washington, D.C., a gathering of grassroots activists convened each year under the leadership of Apollo cofounder Robert Borosage. As executive director and a cofounder of this new coalition, I stepped to the microphone to announce the coming together of a dozen labor unions and a broad cross section of environmental organizations to declare common cause in demanding the jobs, investment, and opportunity at the heart of a clean-energy economy. It was an exciting moment, to bring these powerful movements together, representing millions of people on the ground, machinists and electricians, environmental activists and sportsmen. It was time for a new coalition and a new voice for jobs and the environment.

The response was swift and enthusiastic. There was tremendous hunger for a discussion of our climate and jobs crises that was rooted in a positive vision for moving the country forward. I became convinced at that moment that our months of hard work in building the alliance had laid the groundwork for a politically powerful realignment with the clean-energy revolution at its heart.

What started as a loose coalition of labor and environmentalists has today grown to include 22 unions and the International AFL-CIO, almost all the major national environmental organizations, 150 businesses, 150 community-based organizations, and formal Alliance chapters in ten states. It has won bipartisan legislative victories and gotten membership groups working together for a shared message, creating jobs in clean energy.

It is increasingly clear that succeeding in an energy revolution will take a political revolution as well. Uniting the labor and environmental movements; a business voice; and community, faith, and civil rights groups is a key part of creating that revolution. These new alliances are grounded in shared interests and a shared vision for a "high road" national economy. In an economic study conducted for the Alliance, the nonpartisan Texas-based economist Ray Perryman calculated that a rapid conversion to clean energy that invested $300 billion over ten years (one quarter the cost of the Iraq war in the last four years) would create over three million jobs concentrated in the manufacturing and construction sectors and offer billions of dollars of stimulus to the economy in new earnings and investment.1

A seminal moment in the formation of the Apollo Alliance was the transmission of a catalytic memo written by political strategist and Apollo cofounder Dan Carol in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11. The "moonshot" memo called for an Apollo-scale effort linking economic stimulus with ending dependence on oil, and calling for an alliance of strange bedfellows to get the job done. Carol's vision for broadening the coalition on climate and energy solutions through a focus on economic transformation is at the heart of a political movement that is finally emerging as a new politics for the country, linking concern over climate change, national security, and energy to hope for good jobs, stronger communities, and a more robust democracy.

Broadening the constituency for clean energy from an environmental base to a core economic and security audience was at the heart of forming the Alliance. As Steelworkers president Leo Gerard said at the time, "In the face of a trading system that's devastating both workers and the environment, an Apollo Project for energy independence has the potential to unite trade unionists and environmentalists in building an economy that values every worker's right to bargain for a decent living and every citizen's right to live in a healthier world."2 The two are connected. Our economy either builds a broadly shared and lasting prosperity on a sustainable footing, or it doesn't.

The new Apollo Project for energy, by emphasizing the link between green strategies and long-term economic growth that creates good jobs, has laid out a critical piece of the political equation for healing long-standing rifts between environmental advocates and champions of workers' rights, and has also paved the way for collaboration with progressive businesses and advocates for social justice.

Today Jerome Ringo is president of the Apollo Alliance, and he is working to continue expanding that base of coalition partners. Ringo started his work in the Louisiana petrochemical industry; as an oil and chemical worker, he led health and safety fights in the refining industry. Once he had secured protective equipment for the workers in the plant, he began to talk to folks "outside the fence." His rich experience inside and outside the energy industry impressed on him the need to build broad coalitions.

Ringo looks to Martin Luther King Jr. as a guide. The civil rights movement was one of the last truly successful broad-based popular movements in the United States. What is most important about King is that he turned decades-old civil rights battles into a movement by bringing people of all backgrounds together around a common cause. Racial justice ceased to be the issue of one class of citizens, faced alone by individuals, and became everyone's concern.

Ringo believes that no issue is as powerful today, or as common to everyone, as that of climate and energy. The new Apollo vision of a renewed environment; millions of good jobs; and stronger, more secure communities can be the spark that unites a truly common movement. As Ringo says, this is "not a Democrat or Republican issue, not a rich man's or poor man's issue; it is not something just for politics or the faith community. It is something that touches all of us and will have to be resolved by all of us."3 The current crisis, he says, "can't be solved by a segment of the people—everyone has to have a place at the table."

The Apollo Alliance is creating organizing tools to bring people together around this vision, launching a national Apollo Challenge to motivate and mobilize voters, organizing businesses and community leaders around state legislation, and crafting new policies to show what's possible. It is also taking the long view by trying to creatively engage the very young with a Young Apollo program. "Just as elementary and middle school students prompted their parents to recycle and quit smoking," Carol says, "organizing youth, even before they hit college—a clean-energy Boy and Girl Scouts—can start to speak to the conscience of adults and truly change citizen and consumer behavior at the scale we need."4

Ringo waxes eloquent on the threats we are facing and their potential to unite us if we can rise to the occasion. As he said recently while strategizing over coffee, "I have stood at the base of Kilimanjaro and seen the melting glaciers; I have stood in an Arctic village and seen the melting of the permafrost. I am an evacuee of Hurricane Rita. I have seen storms take out refineries in my home state and double the price of gas. Tomorrow may be too late. I recognize a sense of urgency, but more, I recognize a need for involvement from everybody."

Kennedy didn't have a template for how to reach the moon, but he had a strategy for marshaling the resources of the country to solve the task at hand. With a united country, he was able to achieve the unbelievable, the unsupportable, the impossible, and do it in a relatively short period of time.

So can we. We need to bring America together around a vision of hope. A new and unifying politic. We cannot afford to waste the talent or lose the contributions of any part of our society. It is time for a new political movement.

Chapter 9

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