According to the Center for Responsive Politics, throughout the course of his political career, Brian Bilbray has received more money from General Atomics than any other single source. The San Diego company offers a wide array of services to the nuclear industry and related arenas, and spends millions each year lobbying to support that business.
So perhaps it was no surprise over the weekend that Brian Bilbray took the Union-Tribune to criticize what he calls “hysteria” over nuclear safety in the wake of the terrible events in Japan. He compares it to reaction in 1979 to the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island — Bilbray calls it an “incident” — and declares those who want to revisit nuclear safety standards to be “fear mongers.”
As proof, he offers that the seawall protecting San Onofre is 50% higher than that at Japan’s Daiichi plant. That’s true. San Onofre’s wall is either 25 feet or 30 feet depending on the report which means that the 8-meter wall of water that swamped the Japanese nuclear reactor would overcome or at least threaten that wall. And studies in the immediate aftermath have put the peak height of the tsunami wave in Japan at 76 feet, with a wave of more than 32 feet hitting Sendai.
And the Japanese standard that guided the building of that wall was established based on historical precedent. While a difference of a foot or two may not produce nearly so dramatic a result, mocking the idea of reconsidering our standards is reckless and insulting. Plus, as recent reporting has pointed out, preparing for the previous disaster isn’t very effective:
The [Japanese] Trade Ministry dismissed evidence two years ago from geologists that the power station’s stretch of coast was overdue for a giant wave, minutes from a government committee show. Tokyo Electric Power Co. engineers also didn’t heed lessons from the 2004 tsunami off Indonesia that swamped a reactor 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away in India, even as they advised the nuclear industry on coping with the dangers.
In just over a year, three corners of the Pacific Rim of Fire — Chile, New Zealand, and Japan — have been struck my major, deadly earthquakes. The North American Pacific coast is the last corner remaining. The notion from Bilbray that it is hysterical fear-mongering to re-examine these standards and ensure that we’re as protected as possible from preventable calamity is simply stunning.
The rest of Bilbray’s piece reads like it was written by the lobbyists at General Atomics, so there’s no need to go into it deeply. But as most of us watch day in, day out what can actually go wrong as it happens in Japan, it’s interesting that Bilbray opts to recite the pamphlet about how nuclear energy is our friend.
The related irony of all this is that Bilbray says right in the title that “science, not fear, should drive America’s energy policies.” It’s a noble sentiment, and one that I certainly support. It’s odd coming from Bilbray however, since less than two weeks ago he voted three straight times against acknowledging that climate change is real. A week before that, he voted to block the EPA from regulating industry greenhouse gas emissions, when Bilbray went so far as to accuse Democrats of trying to “hijack the Clean Air Act.”
There’s no doubt that we all share with Rep. Bilbray the goal of protecting American lives and American quality of life. Coming so transparently to the defense of his largest political benefactor to criticize, name-call and insult those who fear for their personal safety during ongoing, unspeakable tragedy is much less than we deserve from Brian Bilbray.
Cross posted at Two Cathedrals