George Bush’s Nuclear Dawn


WASHINGTON, D.C.–The new Bush energy proposals, announced Wednesday, won’t increase the supply of oil and gas over the short term, and they will result in higher, not lower, prices for energy.

“Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people,” President Bush said in a speech to a small business conclave. “It is a tax our citizens pay every day in higher gasoline prices and higher costs to heat and cool their homes. It’s a tax on jobs and a tax that is increasing every year.”

In addition to supporting expanded tax breaks for fuel-cell or hybrid cars, Bush called for the building of more oil refineries, particularly on old military land, and boosting nuclear power.

Even if Congress raced to shift the energy infrastructure toward nuclear power, that would take years. There never has been any solution to handling nuclear waste, and just as soon as one step is taken to push nuclear, the coal lobby, headed by the West Virginia’s estimable Robert Byrd, will spring into action. Together, coal and the auto makers have over the years fought fiercely against changes in the energy mix that would challenge their market share.

The nuclear industry is now facing a potentially enormous scandal. The Sierra Club has unearthed a foreign-backed uranium enrichment project planned for Texas that involves Pakistan’s scandalous Abdul Qadeer Khan, who last year confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, and Iran. The nuclear business has been in the dumps ever since Three Mile Island, which took place in the Carter administration, and has never been able to crawl back out.

The only way to increase short-term oil supplies is to tap more reserves in the Western Hemisphere. That means Canada, where there has been growing unease over the naked U.S. policy of sucking dry that nation’s oil and gas wells. And over the long term, getting oil from Canada means drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic or pumping billions of dollars into converting Alberta oil sands into oil. Hungry for more petroleum fuel themselves, the Chinese already have moved to take a position in the oil sands.

Venezuela is our long-term stable supplier, but the Chavez government thinks Bush tried to mount a coup against it, and is getting ready for a repeat performance. Chavez recently took steps to limit U.S. participation in petroleum projects, and is bracing for another coup attempt.

The nightmare energy scenario has to do with natural gas, the price of which already is sky high and will almost surely get higher as the air conditioners begin to run in the summer heat. One likely source of gas is the eastern front of the Rockies, but that will hit heavy environmental opposition. LNG imports from the Gulf of Guinea, off the West coast of Africa, would add to the supply, but it takes years to put LNG plants into operation. Transporting LNG is more complex these days because if terrorists were to attack a tanker carrying it in a major harbor, the resulting explosion would injure or kill thousands of people. Protecting LNG tankers involves surrounding them with a small scale armada of armed vessels and stationing planes overhead.

Where is there spare energy? In Russia, which is in the midst of a crippling oil scandal and which is plenty put out with the U.S. after a public scolding last week by Secretary of State Condi Rice. And in Iraq, where insurgents have managed to partially shut down that country’s antiquated infrastructure. Happy hunting.