News & Politics

New Nukes Won't Make Us Safer

If the same people who said, 'Be afraid, invade Iraq' are now saying 'Be afraid, build more nukes,' why should we believe them this time?
It should have been predictable that in the aftermath of the recent blackout across the northeast, the Bush administration and its friends in the power industry would use that incident to increase their cries for increased reliance on nuclear power. Not as predictable, friends of the administration also called for everything from increased missile defense spending to development of bunker buster nuclear weapons because of the risk that terrorists might attack our infrastructure. In recent weeks U.S. newspapers have been inundated with a series of editorials from the radical right, including such luminaries as Newt Gingrich, Frank Gaffney and Spencer Abraham, all following the same mantra: Be afraid. Build weapons. Be afraid. Build more weapons.

Problem is, "be afraid" is all we've heard since September 11, to justify everything from outrageous tax cuts to the indefinite detention of American citizens without counsel. It's wearing thin, especially when projections from Mideast analysts that we'd find no weapons in Iraq turned out to be true. After all, if the same people who said, "Be afraid, invade Iraq" are now saying "Be afraid, build more nukes," why should I believe them this time?

In the last year, we've faced a veritable onslaught of backsliding on a whole series of issues related to nuclear power, waste, and weapons, thanks to the reckless policies of the current administration. Hard won treaties have been abandoned by both the U.S. and Russia (including ABM and START II), and our aggressive foreign policy has other countries, including Iran and North Korea, arming themselves with nukes as quickly as they can say "Deter U.S. aggression."

For the first time since thousands lost their lives following the Chernobyl disaster, U.S. utilities are preparing to request licenses to build new nuclear power plants, and the Senate conveniently helped them out this year by extending a massive, taxpayer funded insurance subsidy. If that doesn't make you feel safe enough, mid-level officials in both the U.S. and Russia have suggested that a return to underground nuclear testing may not be that far off, and specific provisions in the Energy and Water bill called for making that a possibility.

Though the administration invokes September 11 to push people into accepting its radical agenda, none of this has anything to do with the lives which tragically ended that day. These moves have everything to do with a longstanding neoconservative agenda that would have seemed like lunacy on September 10, 2001, but passed almost without comment when it was unveiled as official U.S. foreign policy a year later.

Because the radical right uses fear to advance its agenda, fundamental questions are not being addressed. Do we really need any more nuclear power plants, which generate waste which must be managed for tens of thousands of years, when acceptable, affordable and renewable alternatives exist? Do we really need a new arms race with Russia and China? Do we really need domestic and foreign policies based on fear? Will the manufacture of new nuclear bombs make us safer?

When you lift the veil of fear under which the Bush administration has cloaked its policies, the answer to all of these questions is clearly, resoundingly no.

Charles Sheehan-Miles is executive director of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and the author of 'Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War' (www.sheehanmiles.com).
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