Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Weak Tea in Nuke Attack on Thompson

The Politico reports that in the 1970s and 80s, Fred Thompson lobbied for federal funds for the Clinch River Nuclear Reactor:

When Fred Thompson was a lobbyist, he advocated for one of his home state’s biggest government-funded boondoggles. Along the way, he made some important connections and a nice chunk of change – and he paved the way for the spending of a whole lot of taxpayer money.

It’s a part of his past that runs counter to the fiscally conservative outsider image he’s seeking to cast as he positions himself for an all-but-certain bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Proponents of the reactor argued that it warranted federal funds because it would be the first of a new generation of nuclear reactors, which would dramatically improve the US energy picture. It received those funds -- probably more than warranted -- on that basis. And it was ultimately killed not so much because it was a drain on tax dollars as because it was a nuclear project. And at that time -- 1983 -- environmentalists regarded nuclear power as perhaps the single greatest threat to our environment. Killing Clinch River went a long way toward killing nuclear power for a generation in the US.

How many think that was a good idea?

I am not an expert on nuclear power. I have no idea if the 'groundbreaking work' done at Clinch River would ultimately have paid off. But if nuclear power had not been killed in the 1980s, we would have an alternative source of power that does not pose the global warming problems that coal and gas do.

Go back and read this Heritage Foundation backgrounder from 1982 (can you believe they're online that far back?):
For many conservatives, Clinch River presents a dilemma.

They are, on the one hand, strongly supportive of nuclear energy, but they are also concerned about the burgeoning federal deficit.

Their opposition to the Clinch River Breeder, therefore, is born more out of a concern to limit federal spending than opposition to nuclear power. The stakes are high. If, as spokesmen for the nuclear industry contend, the death of Clinch River will lead inevitably to the death of nuclear power in the United States, conservatives would undoubtedly continue to support the project.
The author of the Heritage paper by the way, is Henry Sokolski -- who now tells the Politico that Clinch River belongs 'up there in the pantheon of nonsensical projects.' That may well be the case. But if Sokolski himself did not realize that in 1982, can Thompson be criticized for not realizing it several years before?

Did reasonable people think that the Clinch River reactor was important to our energy future? Well, a journal of the Los Alamos national labs printed a commentary in 1982 that said:
Our country’s energy future is not at all secure; another series of crises over imported oil and new demands and higher prices for uranium could make the breeder reactor very attractive thirty years from now. From our own experience and from watching the European efforts, we know that development and commercial plant production take twenty years or more. We also know that the costs of development and construction are rising rapidly. Much of the preliminary testing of breeder reactor components is done. Now the moratorium is over. It seems a good time to go forward either with a revised intermediate project at Clinch River or with a new large developmental plant—or both.
The author of this piece was Jay Boudreau, who went on to serve as Deputy Associate Director for Nuclear Programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (I don't find a current listing for him. If someone sends it to me, I'll print it below.)

So Thompson made money lobbying for a home-state energy project backed by everyone in Tennessee and many conservatives -- one that experts had high hopes for, but which was ultimately killed in the anti-nuclear frenzy of the late 70s and early 80s?

It doesn't strike me as a big deal. It sounds a lot more rational and justifiable than going to Iowa and pimping ethanol -- which doesn't seem to move anyone to write exposes.

No comments: