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Nukes: You should never turn your back

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Nukes sure make

Electrons flow;

But they also

Make us glow.

Supporters of nuclear power and nuclear weapons enjoy a number of intrinsic advantages over their opponents. The first is money. Atoms make for high stakes gambling. Anyone who wins a contract for bombs or electricity can make zillions. This means there's lots of cash available for lobbying, bribes, and campaign contributions.

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A second big advantage is secrecy. Almost everything nuclear is a national security secret. But as WikiLeaks has shown, classification is also useful to cover up greed, incompetence, screw-ups, and other major embarrassments. Many revealing policy debates, investigations, and negotiations are carried out behind closed doors.

The third pillar of nuclear advancement is relatively new: climate change. The industry has won new life in claiming to be carbon-free. Coal clearly destroys our air. Natural gas ruins our water supplies. Oil makes us dependent on unreliable dictators. Only nuclear power is supposedly non-polluting. Remarkably ignoring common sense, the Department of Energy is furthering this mindless scam by funding small modular nuclear plants to supply its own power, thus supposedly reducing its carbon footprint.

Unfortunately, it's simultaneously expanding its radioactive footprint. So far, no one has figured out how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. Onsite spent fuel storage pools have lost their luster in light of the disaster at the Daiichi nuclear complex in Fukushima. Nevada has resisted becoming America's nuclear dumping ground and South Carolina has belatedly closed its own huge repository. Of course, this still leaves the usual suspects--Indian reservations and impoverished African nations. Not long ago, German farmers fought off riot police to keep such a dump out of their woods.

Using more nuclear power naturally means mining and milling ever more uranium. Coloradoans are gearing up for a new battle to keep that from happening again in their state. This time they have the cancer statistics to back them up.

But nuclear bomb manufacturers never rest. They even have a cute name for their factories: "Laboratories." This makes them sound less threatening. But they are just the Military-Industrial Complex tricked out in lab coats. Every president, including Barack Obama, has had to buy them off, as he did with special wrinkles in the New START agreement. At least he avoided George W. Bush's nuclear bunker busters.

Protecting these nuclear weapons is a favorite subject of American demagogues. Naturally no one would ever dare weaken America's nuclear "defenses." Plenty of lawmakers therefore publicly deplore any reductions in our wasteful missile defense sites or our overstocked atomic weapons arsenal--especially if they are located in the good old home district. Waving the flag rarely hurts anyone politically.

Plainly the best way to protect ourselves from deadly radioactivity is to get rid of the stuff altogether--all of it. No more nuclear weapons. No more nuclear reactors. No more space nukes--we're still being poisoned by the last nuclear space rocket that crashed in 1964. If we speed up our own dismantling, other countries will too. Their citizens don't like the things any better than we do.

And just for good measure, let's store all that spent nuclear waste in dry casks on the Mall in Washington. That's the only way we can be sure someone will be watching out for leaks for the next 10,000 years.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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