The Evil Twins
To my mind, nuclear weapons and nuclear power are the ultimate expressions of human evil: the twin faces of a blind technological arrogance that gambles our lives and all life on Earth for power and wealth. Both are government-subsidized industries that specialize in turning public money into private profit. Both have contaminated the globe with radioactive poisons for 75 years, leaving the costs of cleanup to current and future taxpayers for ten thousand generations to come. Both threaten massive and uncontainable destruction that could make every other issue irrelevant in an instant if the blind and arrogant continue to have their way.
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we are closer today to nuclear holocaust than we have ever been. Nuclear weapons have largely dropped out of public awareness since the heyday of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s, but thousands of missiles are still on hair-trigger alert, targeting cities around the world for a fiery death with little or no warning. Even without a deliberate attack, a nuclear exchange could be touched off by accident, by hackers, by human or computer error. In recent decades the United States has unilaterally withdrawn from almost every arms control treaty and allowed others to lapse, while moving to encircle Russia and China with first-strike nuclear forces. Reversing a key campaign promise, Joe Biden has proposed to increase Donald Trump’s budget to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal, a Pentagon project with a $1.7 trillion total price tag.
Meanwhile, 122 nations have overwhelmingly approved a United Nations treaty banning the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons, which took effect in January 2021. Threats from North Korea and Iran and nuclear upgrades in China and Russia are alarming, but the primary danger of nuclear annihilation comes from the United States. Just as U.S. military spending drove the arms race of the Cold War era, the Pentagon’s aggressive shift in strategy from mutual deterrence to global dominance is spurring a revival of international tension. A new round of arms control negotiations and treaties is a far safer path. But unfortunately, keeping the “defense” industry profitable is a higher priority for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Nuclear power is the most expensive source of electricity ever invented. Its true cost can’t even be calculated until its radioactive waste products decay to a safe level, 25,000 years from now. It was invented by the U.S. government to plaster a “peaceful” façade over the horrors of atomic war, and it has been wholly dependent on government handouts ever since. To this day it masquerades as an actual industry, turning an obscene profit for its stockholders at taxpayer expense. The threat of a major accident like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima is ever-present, but the nuclear utilities and their regulatory enablers have kept secret literally thousands of spills, accidents, and narrow escapes. No insurance company will cover such a risk, so by act of Congress, U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for any future nuclear disasters.
The entire nuclear industry is a slow-motion disaster, in fact, and the taxpayers are on the hook for all of it. Uranium mining contaminates vast regions, mostly on indigenous land, along with the mostly-indigenous miners, who die of radiation poisoning at such a high rate that Congress has established a special fund to compensate their families. Every nuclear power plant routinely releases radioactive tritium. Spent nuclear fuel is the most toxic substance known, requiring constant immersion in water to prevent catastrophe; for this too U.S. taxpayers assume liability for millennia to come.
The assertion that nuclear energy is a “carbon free” solution to global warming is a desperate fabrication spun by a failing industry that cannot compete on any basis other than government corruption and P.R. lies. Nuclear power plants take at least a decade to build; development and testing of new “safer” technologies would take even longer. By the time they come online, our window of opportunity to avert climate disaster would be long gone. Renewable options like wind and solar are a much better investment of the billions a new reactor costs.
Georgia’s Central Role
As it happens, my home state of Georgia is currently a major epicenter of both types of nuclear insanity. Kings Bay Naval Base on the south Georgia coast is the home port of the Atlantic fleet of Trident submarines. Each vessel carries enough D5 missiles to end human civilization and most other life on Earth. The base, which hosts one quarter of the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, is currently slated for a $500 million upgrade, and the Pentagon has contracted for 12 new submarines of a bigger and deadlier design at $8.8 billion apiece. “Overkill” is an understatement; the missiles already based in Georgia could destroy us all in a single afternoon’s accidental or calculated insanity.
Meanwhile, at Plant Vogtle, near Augusta, Georgia Power is building the first commercial nuclear reactors to be licensed in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island near-meltdown in 1979. No investor will finance such a risky project, so the Public Service Commission – charged with regulating utilities on behalf of the their customers – and the state legislature authorized Georgia Power to charge ratepayers a monthly fee to fund the project. Construction of Vogtle 3 and 4 is following the familiar pattern of its predecessors on the site, Vogtle 1 and 2, and every other nuclear plant ever built: a decade behind schedule, billions over budget, while Georgia Power rakes in record profits for its shareholders.
What Can Regular Folks Do?
Nuclear Watch South, a grassroots organization based in Atlanta (formerly Georgians Against Nuclear Energy), is the state’s oldest environmental group. I have served on its Board of Directors since 2010. Our group is part of a national network of similar organizations, most of which focus on either nuclear power or nuclear weapons. Since we live in Georgia, we have taken on both. Our activities range from an uplifting celebration of peace on Nagasaki Day to legal interventions at the Public Service Commission, from vigiling at the Trident base to volunteering at the Get Off the Grid Music Fest and Solar Expo. The home port of the four-story-tall Trident submarines happens to occupy the only known calving ground of the Atlantic Right Whale, so as a side project we are working to save the whales.
Nuclear Watch South has chalked up some impressive wins. But isolated victories are not the point. Our adversaries are powerful corporations, corrupt politicians, and a military establishment bent on global conquest. Their goals and strategies are not only evil, but clearly insane – far beyond any maniacal villain Hollywood has ever dreamed up. Yet the world accepts this as perfectly normal and routine. Both types of nukes are immensely profitable, but only because the taxpayers and electricity ratepayers play along with their game. What sane and ethical person can even conceive of such evil and depravity? And of those that can, who can imagine a way to overcome it?
But the real obstacle is precisely that deficit of imagination. Our hope of winning lies not in our own efforts, but in the possibility of awakening our millions of fellow citizens to the reality of the danger and the power that lies asleep in their hands. When the activist minority becomes an aroused and engaged majority, the reign of the nukes will be history. Join us!
Take Action and Learn More
Our political, social, and environmental concerns are all connected at the root. I have concentrated my own efforts on the three areas listed below, Every issue is vitally important, and for each, one or more citizen groups has formed to work for fairness and sanity. Pick the one that calls to you and give what you can. Time, money, energy, creativity – it all counts.