The Bush administration’s energy policies from 2001 to the present have supported fossil fuels above all other energy sources, emphasizing the need to find new sources of petroleum, support new technologies for liquefied natural gas, and move forward with “clean” coal technologies. Over the course of Bush’s presidency, there is some mixed, but clearly secondary, support for renewable forms of energy and conservation/efficiency.

In a speech on his energy proposals in January, 2007, President Bush seemed to break new ground.  But his calls for reduced U.S. gasoline usage and raising fuel-economy standards are far less than is needed to reduce our growing dependence on oil or stem the rise in greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. One of his featured proposals calls for an increase in the production of corn-based ethanol, but his estimates of the impact seem unrealistic. Steven Mufson, Washington Post correspondent, notes that industry experts say that it would take more than all of last year’s U.S. corn harvest to make enough ethanol to meet Bush’s target of replacing 15 percent of the projected annual gasoline consumption in 2017 (1-24-07).

Amidst it all, the administration sees a significant role for the long stagnant nuclear power industry, and wants to see a doubling of the number of nuclear power plants over the next couple of decades. There are currently 103 nuclear plants across the country. Nuclear power is now responsible for 20% of electricity generation and 7% of the total energy produced in the U.S. If there is going to be a renaissance of nuclear power, it will require massive government subsidies and guarantees.  Russell D. Hoffman puts it this way:  “government contracts, government subsidies, government insurance, and tax breaks (Russell D. Hoffman, “16 Dirty Secrets About Nuclear Power,” Counter Punch, June 27, 2007).

The documentation for Hoffman’s statements are readily available. According to Public Citizen’s website (2-5-07), the Bush administration 2008 budget proposes: $4 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear and coal plants, $802 million for nuclear power research and development, $114 million for the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which pays the nuclear industry for half the cost of applying for new reactors and licensing designs (more than $251 million has been appropriated for this program since FY 2001), $36.1 million for developing designs for the “next generation” of nuclear reactors (more than $200 million has been spent on this program since FY 2001), $405 million for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to promote reprocessing of spent fuel rods, and $494.5 million for the proposed high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Helen Caldicott, physician and perhaps the world’s leading spokesperson for the antinuclear movement, identifies the problems of the government’s attempts to resurrect the nuclear industry in her book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (publ. 2006). She documents her contention that nuclear power is not “clean and green.” She writes: “large amounts of traditional fossil fuels [and the carbon they emit] are required to mine and refine the uranium needed to run nuclear power reactors, to construct the massive concrete reactor buildings, and to transport and store the toxic radioactive waste created by the nuclear process” (viii). During the enrichment of uranium – the principal fuel for generating electricity from nuclear plants –  “the now banned chlorofloro-carbon gas”  emits both a greenhouse gas and “a potent destroyer of the ozone layer” (viii). Further, as the availability of uranium ore declines, “more fossil fuels will be required to extract the ore from less-concentrated veins.” Reprocessing spent radioactive fuel rods releases large amounts of radioactive material in the air and water. Government regulations allow nuclear plants to “routinely…emit hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year.”

Caldicott also draws our attention to other problematic aspects of nuclear power. It produces an enormous amount of nuclear waste. There are already thousands of tons of “solid radioactive waste” accumulating in the cooling pools beside the 103 operating nuclear plants in the U.S. (ix). Nuclear power, she notes, is “exorbitantly expensive and notoriously unreliable. Nuclear plants, with minimal security arrangements, are “obvious targets for terrorists, inviting assault by plane, truck bombs, armed attack, or covert intrusion into the reactor’s control room.” These plants are “essentially atomic bomb factors,” in that, for example,  just one “1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor manufactures 500 pounds of plutonium a year; normally ten pounds of plutonium is fuel for an atomic bomb” that could devastate a city. And, as more tax dollars are channeled to nuclear power, renewable energy is short changed (x).

Despite the major problems associated with nuclear power, the Bush administration – and the Congress – has decided to spend tens of billions of taxpayer money on the expansion of nuclear power and to ignore the many problems associated with it. It is this fact that brings us to Piketon, Ohio, where since 1953 there are nuclear facilities that in the past produced components for nuclear bombs and more recently commercial power. The facilities located on 3,174 acres are extensively contaminated, contain an enormous quantity of nuclear waste, have polluted the surrounding environment and residents, and have shortened the lives of many workers while making additional thousands very sick. The Piketon nuclear facilities in Portsmouth, Ohio, are, by the way, only about 60 miles to the west – and up wind - of Athens.

As the Bush administration tries to rejuvenate the nuclear power industry, economic and political interests in Portsmouth Ohio, the governor, and the majority of elected officials from the area around Piketon are trying to take advantage of the anticipated profitable opportunities and “economic development” that may flow from federal government-funded nuclear power projects. The problematic aspects of nuclear power are ignored or dismissed.

You get a sense of what is in store for Piketon and surrounding communities from the projects that are already underway or well into a planning phase. Much of the following information comes from an outstanding series of articles that appeared in the Dayton Daily New.”(Lynn Hulsey and Tob Beyerlein, “Ohio’s Nuclear Legacy: Troubled past, uncertain future,” Dayton Daily News, a series published Nov. 12-14, 2006).

First, there is construction to build a plant “to convert 20,000 cylinders of old enrichment waste…to a more benign chemical form.” The 14-ton cylinders contain “radioactive ‘depleted uranium hexafluoride so corrosive it could eventually eat through the metal and release toxic gas.” If the conversion plant opens in 2008 as planned, it “will take until 2026 to convert the existing backlog of cylinders.” In the meantime, other plans for Piketon will generate additional radioactive wastes. And, whether there are 20,000 cylinders of waste or 40,000, there is no place to which it can be transported.

Second, the facilities are home to the Uranium Management Center, which stores 4,500 metric tons of radioactive metals, powders, and fuel pins, much of it from federal cleanup projects at the Feed Materials Production Center near Fernald, Ohio, and the Hanford weapons plant in Washington state. One Ohio EPA official described “shipping dangerous material between plants” as “a kind of shell game.” Officials connected to the center hope they can process and sell this stuff. But there are no buyers and, in the meantime, it is yet another source of radioactive waste at Piketon. 

Third, plans by American Centrifuge for a new uranium enrichment plant have been accepted by the Department of Energy. The plan is to build a structure or structures that will house “12,000 machines towering 43 feet in the air” that will “separate uranium isotopes with centrifugal force, creating a power source that can be used for electricity – or bombs.” But, if the “engineering problems, delays and spiraling costs” can be managed, the enrichment plant “will generate tons and tons of radioactive waste – enough over 30 years to fill 41,000 cylinders weighting about 14 tons apiece, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. All of that waste – added to the 20,000 cylinders already piled up at the plant – would have to be converted to a more stable form before it can be hauled away” to a yet to be identified repository.

Fourth, a group called the Southern Ohio Nuclear Integration Cooperative (a for-profit enterprise) has received $674,000 from the DOE to submit a plan for building a reprocessing plant at Piketon. This plant would “remove plutonium from highly radioactive spent fuel rods for reuse in an advanced burner reactor.”The spent  rods would come from across the United States and perhaps overseas and would be stored at Piketon.” Local citizen groups in Portsmouth and surrounding communities fear that massive quantities of this radioactive waste will accumulate at the site, but that the reprocessing plant will never be built. Even if there is a reprocessing plant at some future time, reprocessing nuclear materials yields some nuclear waste as well as useable nuclear fuel for electricity generation or nuclear bombs.

Two groups in the Piketon/Portsmouth area have been working to support an accelerated cleanup of the facilities, keep any additional nuclear wastes from being generated there or brought from outside, and to pressure the federal government to provide just compensation to workers who have been made sick by the contaminated conditions of the facilities or to families of deceased workers. You can contact them at the following addresses or phone numbers and learn how you can support their efforts.

1 ) Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS) –P.O. Box 136, Portsmouth, Ohio 45662, or Vina Colley, President, at, cell phone: 740-357-8916, or Joni Fearing, Vice President, at, or 740-353-6536.

2) Southern Ohio Neighbors Group (SONG) – P.O. Box 161, Piketon, OH 45661, or at, or 740-289-2549.