A pro-nuclear rally was held on the south steps of the State Capitol June 28 to gather support and attention for The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's public meeting later that evening at the Port Gibson City Hall, in Claiborne County.
Sporting signs that read "Go Nuke, Don't Pollute" and "Nuclear: The Clean, Green Power Machine," rally members worked to push the benefits of an early site permit application for a second nuclear generating unit at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, about 70 miles southwest, in Port Gibson. Entergy Nuclear, which owns the current facility, has not yet decided to build the second unit, but the awarding of the permit would begin the process.
Participants in the rally included George Williams, site vice president at Grand Gulf; Norris McDonald, founder and president of the African-American environmentalist Association (AAEA); Jim Reinsch, president of the American Nuclear Society; Amelda Arnold, Port Gibson Mayor; Michael Stuart, North American Young Generation for Nuclear; and a crowd of more than 60 supporters.
Reinsch said he supported the expansion of nuclear power plants—none of which have received a new site permit for expansion since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, in Middletown, Pa.—because he felt the technology was a means for the nation to shrug off its dependence on foreign oil.
"In a competitive and uncertain world, assuring secure and diverse energy supplies is one essential key to a strong economy where our families and businesses can strive," Reinch said.
Stuart said he saw the benefits of nuclear energy through the positive impact it had on the environment.
"The use of nuclear power in Mississippi alone last year avoided the emission of 47,800 tons of sulfur dioxide, 16,300 tons of nitrogen oxides and 9.4 million metric tons of CO2," Stuart said. "The pollution avoided by the use of nuclear power in Mississippi is like taking 850,000 automobiles off the road."
Opponents to nuclear power held their own rally at the Capitol later that same day. Sporting a reactor cooling tower carved from ice and fuming with frozen carbon dioxide, members of the Mississippi Green Party, political watchdog group Public Citizen, the Sierra Club and nuclear monitor The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, pointed out the less positive side of nuclear power.
Gunter, in particular, enjoyed picking apart claims made at the earlier rally. Arguments that the industry produced less pollution were met with retaliations that the waste they did produce stayed wildly toxic for thousands of years. Assertions that the industry could store its nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada were kicked down by the argument that residents of Nevada have successfully fought the idea of putting nuclear waste in their state for more than a decade. Also, earlier boasts that the industry had "an excellent quarter century record" were quickly blasted by the recollection of the disastrous accident at Chernobyl, which killed hundreds of Russians and is still killing hundreds more through slow radiation poisoning today.
"If we build more reactors at Grand Gulf, that will double or triple the risk of a nuclear accident or a terrorist attack down there," said Landon Huey, Mississippi representative of the Mississippi Green Party. "If there was an accident or a terrorist attack there would be a buffet of hazardous chemicals spewing out hundreds of miles away, even as far north as Jackson."
Gunter said he considered the request to expand the facility a kind of discrimination against the state's African-American population, which he said bears the brunt of the risk in case of accidents.
"A discriminatory tax policy that was put into place by the state in 1986 has undermined the security infrastructure in Claiborne County (the location of Grand Gulf) as well as its emergency planning. You've only got one patrolman on duty in the entire county every night. … The county is about 84 percent African-American, but 70 percent of their money goes to the 44 other counties in Entergy's distribution. Look, I know there's still distrust in black people having that kind of money, but that kind of discrimination has got to be abolished. We're in the 21st century now," Gunter said.
Supporters for the nuclear industry remained unconvinced. "You need a lot of glitz and glamour to make up for lack of compelling arguments," said Michael Stuart, surveying the smoldering ice sculpture presented by activists.
Despite a recent improvement of the public's opinion of nuclear power, the federal government has not issued any building permits for the construction of any nuclear reactors since the Three-Mile Island incident. With the costs of a potential accident wandering within the realms of untold billions, Wall Street has pointedly decided against the financing of any nuclear construction endeavor. Utility companies announcing an application for a construction permit run a risk of having their credit rating reduced to junk bonds.
The industry could see funding from the federal government, however. The Senate Energy Bill has $10.1 billion in funding slated for the nuclear power industry, effectively creating a means for nuclear expansion through a taxpayer giveaway.
Additional Local Pro-Nuclear Support: Mr. James Miller, Claiborne County Administrator, also spoke at the Pro-nuclear Rally where he voiced his support for a new reactor at Grand Gulf. Pro-nuclear economic arguments are presented by resolutions passed by the City of Prot Gibson and Clairborne County (see below links). These resolutions clearly state the economic benefits that the current Grand Gulf unit is providing to the local community.
Chernobyl: The Chernobyl accident should not be compared to reactors operating in the United States. The April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, then part of the former Soviet Union, was the product of a severely flawed reactor design. In addition, serious mistakes were made by the plant operators, who violated procedures intended to ensure safe operation of the plant. A major cause of the accident was several significant flaws in the design of the plant, which made the reactor potentially unstable and easily susceptible to loss of control in case of operator error. The RBMK design used at Chernobyl had a "positive void coefficient." This means the nuclear chain reaction and power output increased when cooling water was lost. The commercial reactor designs in the United States have ìnegative void coefficientî which means that power output decreases in the event cooling water is lost. Also, the Chernobyl plant did not have the massive containment structure common to most nuclear power plants elsewhere in the world. In the United States, the reactor core resides in the reactor vessel, which is made of steel that is about six inches thick, which is further surrounded by the containment structure is typically about four feet of reinforced concrete with a thick steel liner.
In that article, Paul Gunter is quoted with the complaint that "only one patrolman [is] on duty" in all of Claiborne County every night.
While this is a minor point, this is just another example the kind of misinformation we (the informed) have to deal with from these anti-nuclear folks.
I don't know about the rest of Claiborne County, but I can tell you for a fact that at least two patrollmen were on duty at 2 AM on Wednesday, June 29, in Port Gibson. I saw them for myself as I was walking the streets and reading the historic markers.
- Michael Stuart