Renewed battle against nuclear energy

By Melanie S. Welte
Monday, August 30, 2010

DES MOINES - It's been 33 years since Raye Fleming's arrest outside Southern California's Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, near the height of the furor against nuclear power.

That was the first arrest of many, and Fleming thought such actions paid off as a generation of Americans turned against nuclear power.

"It was just the correct, moral thing to do," said Fleming, 66.

But after years of believing they had won the fight against nuclear energy, activists feel the battle is starting all over again. And they're trying to figure out how to win in an era of Facebook and Twitter and get the younger generation involved in the movement.

Lately, the option for nuclear energy has gotten more popular.

President Obama has backed billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. If approved, they would be the first nuclear power plants in the United States to begin construction in almost three decades. Political support for nuclear power has grown, especially after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted risks of fossil fuel production. And people are more open to nuclear energy.

For those like Fleming, that change is hard to understand.

"A call for more nuclear power plants," Fleming, of Arroyo Grande, Calif., said with a sigh. "It's still not safe. There's still no solution to the waste storage and it's costly."

For many, the issue isn't as simple as it once was. Concerns about global warming have left several environmentalists unsure about what really is the "green" side of the issue, and it's been more than 30 years since the last high-profile accident in the United States.

Some, like Patrick Moore, have simply changed their minds. He was once a leader in the anti-nuclear movement, and now he's co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which supports the expansion of nuclear power.

"I personally believe that because we were so focused at that time on the threat of all-out nuclear war and the emotional aspect of that, we were a bit blinded and included nuclear energy in with nuclear weapons as if everything nuclear was evil," he said.

"The bottom line is, I believe we made a mistake," he added, noting that although construction costs for nuclear plants are high, operating costs are low. He also contends that nuclear energy is a safe and valuable resource.

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