Clements Keynote Speaker at USC Environmental and Social Justice Activism in South Carolina Conference

From today’s University of South Carolina Daily Gamecock:

Tom Clements, South Carolina’s 2010 Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, wants today’s students to think of themselves as activists.

“Challenge authority and question authority,” Clements said. “We need you guys here in South Carolina to be involved on campus.”

Clements was the keynote speaker at the Environmental and Social Justice Activism in South Carolina conference that was held January 21-23 in the Green Quad Learning Center. The conference, organized by the Palmetto Environmental Action Coalition and Amnesty International, gave students from universities across the state an opportunity to discuss environmental issues such as nuclear energy, coal and waste issues and to create solutions for ending problems these issues cause.

Read on…


Clements Calls Attention To Dangers Of Mini-Reactors

Today’s The State quotes 2010 US Senate candidate Tom Clements on the dangers of a new nuclear “mini-reactor” applications in SC. Clements is Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth and a nuclear policy expert and is frequently consulted by the local press on energy issues.

A press release from Clements’ office at Friends of the Earth, illuminates the fact that the reactors are being built as experimental prototypes in order to avoid proper licensing.

The revelation that two prototype “small modular reactors” are being pursued by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the private contractor that manages the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina, “in advance of any design certification and licensing by the NRC” has drawn the charge from Friends of the Earth that such a move does not comply with pertinent U.S. regulations and must be dropped.

“We call on Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and the Department of Energy to immediately affirm that no experimental nuclear reactors will be pursued in South Carolina without the required license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth. “Construction of ‘small modular reactors’ that are not licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would violate U.S. law as well as endanger the public and we will strongly oppose any attempt to avoid required licensing of such reactors.”

Small modular reactors are being pursued by various companies but at present only exist as concepts. Although such reactors would be smaller than those currently operating, modular reactors would still produce nuclear waste and pose the same safety and proliferation problems of larger reactors. Licensing discussions between at least one firm and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have begun.

Jeff Wilkinson’s article in The State quotes nuclear industry officials, and also some academics, but does a pretty good job of relaying the environmental concerns:

Nuclear power critic Tom Clements, with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said relatively little is known about the dangers of mini-nuclear reactors.

But it is clear that mini-reactors would create nuclear waste, just as larger, conventional reactors would, he said.

The nation’s high-level nuclear waste was to be shipped to a burial ground in Nevada for disposal, but President Obama pulled the plug on the project after protests from western lawmakers, leaving utilities looking for new ways to get rid of the radioactive trash.

Clements’ group this week charged that a proposal to develop mini-nuclear reactors at the 310-square-mile Savannah River Site was an attempt to avoid scrutiny from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must approve any license for a nuclear power plant. The Department of Energy, which runs the site near Aiken, denied the charge.

“There’s a lot to work out about this, Clements said. “That’s why I think the cheerleading for these reactors is way ahead of reality.”

In the absence of any plan for the long-term storage of nuclear waste, its almost certain that the radioactive waste produced by these reactors would stay in South Carolina. There should be hearings on these “mini-reactors” just as for any other nuclear reactor. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions’ attempt to circumvent the process is disturbing. Any hearings would drive home the dangers presented by the proliferation of nuclear reactors and the long-term hazards of stored nuclear-waste.

See also:

Columbia journalist Kevin Alexander Gray also posted the full FoE press release on his blog:

Gray provides a link that indicates the extreme danger of allowing nuclear waste into SC. According to a presentation made only last September, the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions company is floating the idea of “permanent” nuclear waste storage at the Savannah River Site:

As an indication that some are thinking of SRS as the new Yucca Mountain, in a SRNS presentation to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board on September 29, 2010 entitled SRS Energy Park – Vision and Implementing Concepts, the SMRs are pitched as part of a “potential alternative to Yucca Mountain.”

Haley’s Fundamental Mistakes On Health Care

Ensuring the health care of the most vulnerable South Carolinians is an investment in the whole of society. Yet, in her first State of the State address, Governor Haley targets the sick and poor for especially bad treatment in this budget. She speaks as though the interests of the poor were somehow not connected with the rest of society. She has not responded to previous the warnings from health care professionals that reductions in regular care only lead to greater costs. As people must wait longer to receive treatment, they become sicker. Poor sick people are more likely to require emergency services to treat profound health problems under Haley’s plan. Poor people will be pushed out of care earlier and a lack of follow-up care ensures a return of any chronically ill person. The Haley “plan” is a cyclical-spending budget buster.

There are alternatives for controlling costs while providing health care services. Innovative solutions require investment to create the oversight that will lower costs.

Nikki Haley campaigning Mt. Pleasant, July 2010. Photo used under Creative Commons License. Source: Mary Austin, Flikr.

Physicians in Camden, New Jersey found that for some hospitals a quarter of their costs were coming from less than 5% of their patients. These patients were poor people with multiple chronic health problems located in the low-income neighborhoods with little access to preventive health care services (exactly the areas and services that will be most deprived under Governor Haley’s proposed cuts).

According to Dr. Atul Gawandespeaking to NPR’s Fresh Air about his article in the January 24th New Yorker:

Dr. Jeff Brenner … a family practitioner working in Camden, N.J. … figured that the people who had the highest costs in the health care system were also getting the worst care. By helping them, he could also lower the health care costs — not just for them but for the entire city of Camden.

After three years, Brenner and his team appear to be having a major impact. Gawande writes that his patients “averaged 62 hospital and E.R. visits per month before joining the program and 37 visits afterwards — a 40 percent reduction. Their hospital bills averaged $1.2 million per month before and just over half a million after — a 56 percent reduction…

Such an initial investment that will result in eventual cost reductions while treating payments is a viable option for South Carolina. Nikki Haley and the GOP leadership of the State House only appear to entertain notions of ending government services.  The health care system is severely stressed, yet, they speak only of tax rebates without regard for the costs and harm that will come from reducing or eliminating services.

A Governor of South Carolina should advocate for a real single payer health care system in this country. The current health care system forces the poor and elderly into an underfunded public health service, which already discourages preventative care and maintenance of chronic conditions. Doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmaceutics companies compensate for the below-market Medicaid/Medicare payments by overservicing and overcharging insured patients. Insurance companies pass on the costs to the along to their clients, larded with a substantial corporate profit. This difference in coverage, cost and compensation is the engine that is driving out of control health care costs and pushing people out of coverage.

As a half-way measure, Governor Haley could embrace the cost control provisions of the current health care reform. According to the Physicians for a National Health Program, the Obama plan “contains…virtually every idea for cost control that any analyst has come up with.” The Governor and the leadership of the State House must examine the cost control aspects of the President’s plan and balance out the fairness of the plan with their proposed denial of services.

There are budget alternatives to the cuts proposed by Haley. Dr. John Ruoff of Fair Share has proposed combining state efficiency with tax increases that would save money by fully funding education, health care, and essential social services. By emphasizing investment in health care and job retention, the state could help break the cycle of worsening conditions for the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians who depend on social services. Neither Haley nor the State House leadership will consider any alternatives to cutting budgets because they are prisoner of an anti-political ideology. Haley is incapable of appreciating the positive role of government in alleviating poverty, especially in an economic depression.

In her inaugural address, after an inaccurate and self-serving recapitulation of South Carolina history, Haley quoted Margaret Thatcher
“Once we concede that public spending and taxation are more than a necessary evil, we have lost sight of the core values of freedom.”
Haley’s speech follows her decision to give significant salary increases to her senior staff. Haley’s priorities are not just callous and self-serving. Haley is the prisoner of an ideology that sees service as something that serves wealthy individuals and is blind to the political economy of our state.

As journalist Andy Brack wrote in the December 24th State House Report,

In a Dec. 20 story in The Post and Courier, Haley said managing a state on $5 billion instead of $7 billion would continue to be tough.

“But when else would we have the opportunity to say, ‘Now we can really make changes that matter; now we’re really going to say what is the role of government.’” Later she added that she’d push for tighter spending caps as the state’s economy and funding turned around: “When we grow over a certain amount, anything over that, send it back to the taxpayer.’”

Sounds nice. But such talk is just plain irresponsible for at least three reasons.

Cake. Haley sounds as if she wants to be Marie Antoinette — to have her cake and eat it, too. Logically if she is for giving back money to taxpayers when there is an excess, then she should be for taking away money from them when there is a shortfall. But is raising taxes on her agenda? Absolutely not. So talk of refunds is politically convenient — and intellectually dishonest with taxpayers.

Pabulum. Regardless of whether refund talk was a trial balloon or something serious, raising the possibility is pure politics for the masses. It’s intended to get people to connect with the governor-elect in a positive way, even if there is no way such a refund would ever happen. It seeks to marginalize state government and its functions by someone who is supposed to start running state government in a few weeks.

Respect. Talking about rebating taxpayer money is offensive to the thousands of state employees who are underpaid and underappreciated for what they do to make state agencies run with increasing financial pressures. How would you feel if you hadn’t received a raise in a couple of years in the middle of a struggling economy and your boss said there was extra money, but he was going to give it back to customers?

South Carolina will not experience the resurgence that Haley predicts. Rather than looking for ways to share the cost of improving the economy, Haley and the State House leadership are looking to increase the burdens on the poorest South Carolinians, while returning only a temporary benefit to the state’s business. Conditions of the state’s poorest will worsen, and the state will find itself less and less able to cope with the associated costs of health care.

As a first step, a responsible governor would prioritize the needs of its citizens above any ideological commitment to eliminating government. The state leadership must also confront the possibility that the costs of coping with health care expenses are too related to the national economy to be efficiently handled at the state level. Rather than simply using her position to punish the poor with denied services, a responsible South Carolina governor would look for ways to transfer the state’s health care responsibilities to a national and universal program.

News Roundup on Recent Nuclear Reprocessing Hearing

In the two previous posts we covered the recent hearings by the presidential blue ribbon commission on nuclear waste reprocessing at the South Carolina’s Savannah River Site.

Isakson, Chambliss, DeMint, Graham

Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham, Johnny Isakson and Jim DeMint joke with an official at the Savannah River Site, May 1, 2009. Source. U.S. Senate.

Subsequent news reports have tended to emphasis the words of Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint. Graham attended the Augusta hearing, and had this to say, according to The State.

“I’m very willing for the Savannah River Site to be the research and the development facility for the nation to make that idea a reality,’’ Graham, R-S.C., told the Blue Ribbon Panel on America’s Nuclear Future, which held the hearing. “The goal of reprocessing and recycling is to reduce your storage footprint, right?”

DeMint did not appear, but issued the following statement through his spokesman, again quoted by The State:

“I would urge the commission to fully explore the possibilities available in dealing with this waste, including nuclear recycling….Without a final destination for our nation’s nuclear waste, I fear that our nuclear industry will never reach its full potential…’’

Both DeMint and Graham strongly endorsed bringing nuclear waste to the SRS despite the lack of a permanent depository after reprocessing. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was once intended as a more-or-less permanent site, but this project was terminated in the previous Democratic congress.

The Yucca site was supposed to take much of the nation’s burden by disposing of the highly radioactive material inside a hollowed out mountain some 90 miles from Las Vegas. But it was highly controversial in Nevada, home of influential Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, and President Obama dropped the plan after taking office. Billions of dollars have been spent developing the site over the past two decades.

Tom Clements, a nuclear policy expert and South Carolina Green Party 2010 nominee for U.S. Senate, spoke to the panel and was also quoted by the paper:

Tom Clements of Columbia, a nuclear program coordinator with Friends of the Earth, told panelists that reprocessing is a bad idea. The nation needs a permanent disposal site for nuclear waste, but there is no rush, he said. Commercial radioactive waste can be stored safely at power plants for a century, he said, citing a Nuclear Regulatory Commission document. Environmentalists say reprocessing can result in the nation’s spent nuclear fuel being sent to SRS, effectively making it a dumping ground.

“We don’t want South Carolina to become the new Yucca Mountain, and we’re going to fight it,’’ Clements said.

Leslie Minerd, a member of the SC Green Party steering committee and 2010 Green Party candidate for SC Attorney General, also addressed the panel.

We will continue to follow developments on the proposal to reprocess and store nuclear waste at SRS.

Further Coverage:

Webcast of SRS Nuclear Waste Reprocessing and Storage Hearing, January 7.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future is streaming today’s hearing at the Augusta Marriott Hotel and Suites on nuclear waste reprocessing and storage at the Savannah River Site.

A link to site of stream is here:

The stream is apparently in Windows Media or Real Player. Although the audio appears to be working, the video is scrambled. There is a helpful closed caption text, however.