III. Building More Nukes and Financing Nuclear Power

Presidential candidate Obama said, “As president, I will reach out to the Senate to secure the ratification of the CTBT at the earliest practical date.” For President Obama that practical date has not yet come.

As of now there are 182 member states that have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and 155 that have ratified it. There are 42 Annex 2 states, which means that these states participated in the negotiations between 1994 and 1996 to arrive at a test ban. The United States is one of nine Annex 2 states that have not ratified the CTBT, although the U.S. is one of the 182 states that have signed it.

During the period of the Cold War the principal objection to signing a ban on all testing of nuclear explosives was that the Soviet Union would very likely cheat and its cheating might not be detected. Today, with the Soviet Union gone and the much greater sensitivity and wider distribution of sensors to detect major explosions, there is no credible reason not to join much of the rest of the world and ratify the CTBT

Before getting into a discussion on President Obama’s promotion of nuclear power, there are two other weapons of war: landmines and cluster bombs, that have at least a tangential relation to nuclear weapon. Landmines, for instance, have been called hidden killers or weapons of mass destruction in slow motion. Cluster bombs can kill long after they have been dropped, thus having a relationship to the lingering radioactivity of nuclear weapons.

The UN estimates that there are 100 million mines deployed in 62 nations. An equal number of landmines may be in stockpiles. Another estimate is that 500 people are killed or maimed by antipersonnel landmines every week. Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia have the largest landmine problems.

There are now 127 nations that have signed the landmines treaty originated in Canada. The United States remains outside of that consensus of nations. In the spring of 2010, 68 U.S. senators sent a letter to Obama calling for the ratification of a landmines treaty. When questioned about it, Obama’s then-press secretary, Robert Gibbs, professed to know nothing about President Obama’s position on landmines.

The Pentagon has resisted signing on to a ban on landmines primarily because it contends that there are needed for training purposes and as a tripwire to protect U.S. troops stationed in South Korea from a surprise attack by North Korean troops.

A cluster bomb may have more than 2,000 submunitions or bomblets within it. Not all of these small bombs explode on contact and remain to cause serious injury or death to anyone who comes into contact with them at a later date. International law specifically proscribes their use in highly populated areas. What happened in Afghanistan illustrates how tragically wrong things can go when one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. The U.S. was dropping humanitarian rations colored similarly to the BLU-971B cluster bomblets.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted in Dublin, Ireland in May 2008. As of August 2008, 108 nations had signed it and 60 had ratified it. Once again, the U.S. is not in this consensus of nations.

Obama’s Position on Nuclear Power

President Barack Obama is a major proponent of building more nuclear power plants. He has proposed $54.5 billion in loan guarantees, which is on top of the $18.5 billion proposed by the George W. Bush administration.

Even in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, Obama’s ardor for nuclear power has not been dimmed. Fukushima has brought calls for building back-up safety systems into reactor construction, thereby adding another big cost factor.

The Sierra magazine of Jan./Feb. 2011 postulates that at a reactor  cost of $12 billion, nuclear power would be more expensive on a watt-for-watt basis than most large-scale renewable energy sources, including wind, biomass and hydro power.

Finally, of course, there is the matter of radioactive waste, for which the nation has no adequate answer.

Rather than trying to revive the nuclear power industry, the scarce funds that are going to be available should be devoted to other forms of renewable energy.

 

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