[Note for Tomdispatch readers: Steve Fraser, who wrote “The Great Silence: Our Gilded Age and Theirs” for this site, was recently invited onto Bill Moyers Journal to discuss a range of topics from that post. The show reflected Moyers’s typical insight and intelligence. I thought some of you might want to check out Fraser’s part in it. If so, click here. Tom]
This has been energy crisis week at Tomdispatch (with a brief pit stop at America’s mega-bases in Iraq, built with control of the oil heartlands of the planet in mind). First, Michael Klare asked why the Pentagon’s garrisoning of the global gas station had anything to do with American security. Then John Feffer wondered whether, when it came to that lethal combo of soaring energy prices, soaring food prices, and extreme weather, we were all now North Koreans. Today, Chip Ward takes up the energy crisis in America’s increasingly arid western backyard.
A few years ago, Ward wrote for Tomdispatch about various plans to dump radioactive waste, including 40 years worth of “spent fuel rods” from nuclear reactors, in his Utah backyard. People who lived downwind were alarmed. They had been exposed to radioactive fallout during the era of atomic testing in the 1950s and feared more of the same — cancer for “downwinders” and obfuscation and denial from federal regulators. Since Ward wrote his account, local activists have successfully blocked the projects. Score one for the little guys.
Last year Ward, who was the assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System, retired. (His goodby-to-all-that Tomdispatch essay, “What They Didn’t Teach Us in Library School,” on his experiences with homeless library users is now being made into a Hollywood movie by actor/director Emilio Estevez.) Ward moved to a remote corner of southern Utah, so imagine his surprise, after years of resisting the back end of the nuclear energy cycle, to run smack into the cycle’s front end: uranium mining.
For most of us, this is a stealth story, but those living in the arid lands of the West are experiencing a killer-case of déjà vu. After all, 50 years ago, the uranium boom that provided the raw material for America’s nuclear arsenal, and its first generation of nuclear power plants, left sickness, death, and environmental destruction in its wake. Back then, “the peaceful atom” was being plugged as a miracle answer to any problem. Energy “too cheap to meter”? You bet. Harbors constructed by detonating atomic bombs? Sure thing. That was, of course, before nuclear power, possibly the most subsidized and capital-intensive energy source on Earth, gave us an intractable radioactive waste problem and filled us with fears of meltdowns and cancer.
Today, nuclear power is experiencing a “revival” — as a visionary solution to a global warming crisis caused, in part, by carbon-dioxide spewing coal-fired power plants. But let Ward take up the story of the latest round of “uranium frenzy” in his usual energetic manner. Tom
Big Bad Boom
By Chip Ward