This article was published on the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s blog Waging Peace Today

President Obama’s first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was all about the economy. Even when he was talking about education, national security or energy, he was talking about the economy.
There were two things that really struck me in his speech: one thing that he said, and one thing that he didn’t say.
The president recognizes that we need to slash the bloated Pentagon budget, though whether he’ll adopt Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-MA) plan to cut the Pentagon budget by 25% or more is unlikely. But, on Tuesday, Obama said, “We’ll…reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use.”
This statement was sufficiently vague to keep all but the most rabid militarists from immediately criticizing his position. I think that some proof of what exactly Obama was referring to came today in the draft 2010 Department of Energy budget: ZERO dollars for new nuclear weapons (currently called the Reliable Replacement Warhead program).
The other thing that really struck me in his speech was the very noticeable omission of nuclear power as a critical part of our energy future. Solar? Check. Wind? Check. Efficiency? Check. “Clean” coal? Um…check. Nuclear power? No thanks.
Let’s ignore for a moment that “clean coal” is about as asinine as calling nuclear power “clean, safe and reliable.” Barack Obama comes from the state of Illinois, the state with the most nuclear power plants and arguably the strongest base of the nuclear power lobby. Obama accepted campaign money from nuclear power pushers. He campaigned on an energy platform that included nuclear power as part of the energy mix.
What has he discovered in his first 40 days in office? Hopefully all of the following:

  • There is still no “permanent” solution to the nuclear waste problem, and there is no solution in sight;
  • The nuclear power industry cannot survive without massive government subsidies;
  • New nuclear power plants take so many years to approve and construct that they cannot help us to meet our immediate carbon reduction requirements;
  • Once you take into account the lifecycle carbon footprint of nuclear power (uranium mining, construction, operation, waste storage, decommissioning), it doesn’t look so carbon-free;
  • Investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency are more economically sensible and will eliminate CO2 emissions more effectively.

With continued public pressure, it is possible for the evil twins of the 20th century, nuclear power and nuclear weapons, to be eliminated for good.


Rick Wayman is Director of Programs at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (