A preliminary report of IEER’s energy assessment project

Download the Full Report | Statement of the author, Arjun Makhijani | Friends of the Earth letter to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge: Energy legislation raises serious terrorist concerns (November 20, 2001)

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Bush Energy Plan Will Worsen U.S. Oil, Nuclear, Electricity Vulnerabilities

Comprehensive Alternative Calls for 100-MPG Cars by 2020;

Nuclear Power Phase Out, Advanced Electricity Grid System; Report Concludes Administration Proposals for New Nuclear Reactors, Plutonium Fuel Increase Risk

Washington, D.C., November 28, 2001: The Bush Administration’s energy plan, conceived before the September 11 terrorist attack, will aggravate U.S. energy vulnerabilities, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). Securing the Energy Future of the United States: Oil, Nuclear, and Electricity Vulnerabilities and a post-September 11, 2001 Roadmap for Action, presents a comprehensive alternative approach that its author says will accomplish the same economic goals, but with far fewer serious risks.

“It is stunning that the Bush administration did not review its energy plan in light of the gaping vulnerabilities revealed by the September 11 attacks,” said IEER President Dr. Arjun Makhijani and author of the report. “If the United States sticks to the course the Bush plan endorses, oil imports will double over the next forty years. That is an invitation to major problems, given the tensions and instabilities in the Middle East.” Based in Takoma Park, Maryland, IEER has published many studies on nuclear technologies and other energy issues.

Securing the Energy Future of the United States sets forth vulnerability criteria to evaluate energy proposals. Among the major risks it cites in the Bush plan:

  • sudden disruptions of world oil markets and U.S. imports, for instance through terrorism or upheavals in the governments of major petroleum exporting countries;
  • attacks on nuclear reactors or spent fuel pools which could create economic, health and environmental damage on the scale of the Chernobyl disaster;
  • diversion of plutonium from commercial facilities; and
  • damage to centralized electricity grids causing breakdowns in power distribution over wide regions

The report specifically condemns a new nuclear plant design, called the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which the Bush plan endorses. According to IEER, this reactor is proposed to be built without the concrete “secondary containment” that shields most current reactors from all but the most massive attacks. While immune to melt-down accidents, the Pebble Bed Modular reactor could still catch fire and spread radioactivity if it were attacked in a variety of ways.

Also targeted for criticism is the administration’s continued pursuit of the idea of using surplus military plutonium to generate electricity in commercial reactors. “The use of plutonium in reactors was already a bad idea before September 11,” said Dr. Makhijani. “It is simply appalling now. The risks of transporting plutonium fuel and the consequences of an attack on reactors that use it are far too grave to tolerate.”

“One drunk with a rifle disabled the Trans Alaska Pipeline a few weeks ago,” said Friends of the Earth President, Dr. Brent Blackwelder. “It is high time that our leaders begin to aggressively explore energy sources that are safe, resilient, and don’t have a bull’s-eye painted on them for terrorists.”

The alternative energy plan drafted by IEER calls for federal regulations requiring new cars to achieve an average fuel efficiency of 100 miles per gallon by the year 2020. “In the 1950s, it used to said that ‘What’s good for General Motors is good for the country,'” said Dr. Blackwelder, “It’s time to reverse that formula to read, ‘What’s good for the country ought to be good for GM.'”

The IEER report also calls for substituting vigorous procurement policies in place of tax credits for renewable energy purchases. “Tax breaks tend to keep the cost of technology high and retard progress,” said Dr. Makhijani. “Targeted purchases of energy efficient products and renewable energy over the next ten to twenty years can provide a strong stimulus to private research and development, help create a manufacturing base, make some cutting-edge technologies commercial, and rapidly reduce costs.” IEER recommends a $20 billion per year program, half spent on federal purchases of products such as fuel-efficient vehicles, fuel cells, and solar cells and half awarded as grants to state and local government for similar procurement programs.

In addition to 100 mile per gallon cars by 2020, the IEER energy plan contains the following principal features,

  • A phase out of nuclear power by the year 2030 and storage of spent fuel packed in casks and surplus plutonium sealed in glass logs in subsurface silos;
  • A reduction of coal use by 55 percent by 2030 and by 90 percent by 2040;
  • Large-scale use of wind power fed into regional electricity grids;
  • Creation of distributed grids in which highly efficient local power generation sources are combined with central station power plants;
  • Widespread use of high efficiency space heating and cooling technologies such as geothermal heat pumps in combination with local generation; and
  • Progressively more stringent carbon emissions standards for electricity generation.

“IEER’s plan is highly innovative in that it shows how we can achieve security and environmental goals simultaneously,” said Dr. Blackwelder. “Friends of the Earth will do all we can to help change the country’s energy path to the direction of this seminal work.”