John Kerry uses last-chance climate summit to tout nuclear power
By Linda Pentz Gunter
“Russia’s seizure earlier this year of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy facility is shining a new light on the safety and security risks of the atomic export policies of the United States and other technologically advanced countries,” began a promising November 8 article in Roll Call.
However, that light seems to have blinded those in power to any common sense.
What has the alarm over the vulnerabilities of Ukraine’s reactors caught in a war zone actually taught any of them? Let’s start with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The problem is not nuclear energy,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the BBC recently. Nuclear power, Grossi said,“can provide a safe, clean source of energy and this is why many countries in Africa and in other places are turning to nuclear.” It’s just war that’s the trouble, Grossi said.
That’s like the gun lobby claiming it’s bad guys, not guns, that do the killing. Sorry, but no. Bad guys without guns can’t shoot people. Broken solar panels and fallen wind turbines can’t release massive amounts of radioactivity. The problem here very definitely IS nuclear energy. Period.
The IAEA position isn’t disingenuous of course. It’s a necessity borne of the agency’s massive conflict of interest, bound, as it is, to further and expand the use of nuclear power across the world. And then enforce safety at plants that are inherently dangerous.
“You will see that nuclear energy has a really solid, very consistent safety record,” said Grossi as the COP27 climate summit got underway in Egypt.
Except of course when there is a war, a prolonged loss of power, a natural disaster, a major human error or a catastrophic technical failure. Then, all of a sudden, having nuclear power plants is, according to Grossi, “playing with fire.”
Will US elected (or appointed) officials take heed of the obvious obstacles presented by nuclear power plants to achieving lasting peace and safety? Of course not. As we wrote here last week, US vice president, Kamala Harris, crowed about selling three Westinghouse reactors to Poland, tweeting that “We can address the climate crisis, strengthen European energy security, and deepen the US-Poland strategic relationship.”
Only the third part is true and is, of course, the basis for the contract in the first place, given Poland’s shared Eastern borders with Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.
John Kerry, ostensibly the US Special Climate Envoy, but actually yet another nuclear industry shill, used the occasion of the COP first to hold a special press conference to trumpet a $3 billion US small modular reactor (SMR) deal with Romania and then another SMR partnership with, incredibly, Ukraine.
“We have a viable alternative in nuclear,” Kerry told reporters. Viable? This was duly lapped up by the press without challenge.
The Romanian debacle-to-be will be funded by the US Export-Import Bank. The Ukraine announcement read:
“Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Ukraine Minister of Energy German Galushchenko announced a Ukraine Clean Fuels from SMRs Pilot project that will demonstrate production of clean hydrogen and ammonia using secure and safe small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) and cutting-edge electrolysis technologies in Ukraine.”
Then they used the word “clean” again four times in the next paragraph. Which speaks volumes and definitely falls into the “doth protest too much” category.
Meanwhile, some experts in the field are warning against exporting nuclear technology to countries that might become embroiled in a war. Surely that would rule out Ukraine? And most if not all of Grossi’s beloved Africa? And what about Poland and Romania? How can we ever be sure which countries might suddenly find themselves at war? Another world war in Europe seemed unthinkable until February 24, 2022.
“An air raid siren sounded for the first time this morning in the nuclear city of Sosnovy Bor on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic,” wrote Russian activist, Oleg Bodrov, a member of the Public Council of the Southern Coast of the Gulf of Finland (PCSCGF) in a November 8 email.
“A similar siren would have been heard by 2 million residents of the Leningrad Region,” said Bodrov. “It was a drill in case of war, which was carried out by decision of the authorities of the region.”
There are more than 30 nuclear power plants located in Russia, Finland and other Baltic countries, according to the PCSCGF. A war in this region that led to the destruction of reactors “could mean the collapse of traditional lifestyles for 90 million people in 9 countries,” the site said.
The recent siren test said Bodrov, “is also a signal for 90 million inhabitants of 9 countries of the Baltic region that mediocre politicians are not able to ensure peace in our common Baltic House.”
The term “nuclear football” is traditionally applied to the black bags containing the “nuclear button” that accompany the US president and vice president at all times. (The third is kept at the White House.) But nuclear power plants are also now proverbial nuclear footballs, being used to deliver a false sense of security but actually putting the countries on whose soil they sit in far greater danger.
Selling US reactors to Eastern European countries clearly has nothing whatever to do with climate or energy needs. “We don’t get to net zero by 2050 without nuclear power in the mix,” Kerry said at his COP press conference. Actually, yes, doing without slow, expensive and dangerous nuclear power is essential if we have any chance whatsoever of achieving net zero (2050 is already too late).
It is ever more apparent that most of our “mediocre politicians,” as Bodrov rightly characterizes them, are not interested in net zero. They are interested in using nuclear power as a nuclear weapons surrogate; in bolstering alliances with Russia’s neighbors in a dangerous move to drive Russia into ever greater political isolation; in propping up failing nuclear corporations like Westinghouse; and in answering their nuclear paymasters in Washington by wasting time and our money on foolish new nuclear plants that are irrelevant to addressing the climate peril we are already in.
Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and writes for and curates Beyond Nuclear International.
Headline photo of John Kerry by U.S Department of State/Wikimedia Commons.