Saturday, May 14, 2011

Warren Buffett's Radioactive Ronin Pillage Iowa

  Months  after massive earthquakes and Tsunamis crushed Japan, the "Fukushima 50" toil on. Crawling through darkened tunnels dangerously close to overheating radioactive reactors, the remaining nuclear power plant employees at Fukushima Dai-Ichi struggle to stop the worsening catastrophe that is spreading deadly toxic pollution across their already crippled homeland. The Fukushima 50 know that they have already sacrificed their lives. They know that the exposure they have already experienced will kill them.
Like samurai committing nuclear seppuku, radioactive ritual suicide, the 50 are driven by a sense of honor and loyalty.
Meanwhile, at the Iowa state capital, lobbyists for MidAmerican Energy continue to push for passage of Senate File 390, a bill that they say will send the message that "Iowa is open for business for nuclear power". They also work from a sense of loyalty, but not like the Fukushima 50. They are corporate ronin, political samurai with no loyalty other than to those who pay them to pillage.
Warren Buffett, who's Berkshire Hathaway Company controls MidAmerican Energy, has been obsessed with nuclear power for many years. In 2007 Buffet made an unsuccessful play to build a nuclear plant in Idaho. More recently, Buffett was outbid by French state-owned utility giant Electricite de France (EDF) for a 49% share of Constellation Energy's Calvert Cliffs III nuclear reactor. Now, Buffett hopes that the third time will be the charm for his nuclear ambitions and he wants to make his nuclear dream come true in Iowa.
Senate File 390 is a bill that seeks to raise MidAmerican customer's electric rates to cover the cost of Mr. Buffett's dream. Despite the fact that Fukushima now rivals Chernobyl as history's biggest nuclear power plant catastrophe, Buffet's Iowa statehouse ronin fight on, hiring more lobbyists to fight back the increasing resistance from "the little people".
Before Fukushima, MidAmerican anticipated easy passage of their bill, counting on republicans to vote "for" nuclear power (which they generally would do just to piss off democrats) along with a cadre of "pro-business" democrats (re: those who took MidAm campaign money).  They were confident that the tired, gray-haired, granola-eating "no-nukes" enviro-dinosaurs could surely be no match for the giant stick they swing at the Iowa statehouse. Surprisingly though, even since Fukushima, the groundswell of opposition has come not as much from enviros as from those who object to MidAm's financing scheme.
AARP (American Association of Retired People) state director Barry Koeppl was quoted in an April 11th article in the Des Moines Register as saying; “We oppose Senate File 390 and House File 961 because those bills substantially shift the cost and risk for nuclear power construction to ratepayers. Rather than rely on shareholders to finance a new power plant, this legislation shifts the billion-dollar-plus costs to ratepayers for a possible nuclear power plant, years before the plant is built, or the plant design has even been approved.”
Apparently, AARP is not alone.  Word has it that MidAm lobbyists are now feverishly counting votes- including republican votes. It seems that Iowa's new crop of Tea-Party Republicans also have problems with state government approving what amounts to a rate-payer funded subsidy for MidAms admittedly sketchy plans. Republican leadership is finding that some of the tea-partiers may be making good on their promise of less government- and the new influx of radical freshmen republican legislators may be a knife that cuts both ways.
This new alliance of populists from the far left and right may be a harbinger of things to come. Not unlike it the U.S. House where far-left Dennis Kucinich and far-right Ron Paul agree in a surprising number of cases concerning issues of personal freedom, the fight against nuclear power on economic grounds may illustrate that there is more common ground to be found in the future when "the little people" stop listening to corporatist Republican and Democrats talking points.
In the mean time, elevated levels of radioactivity are being found in milk in California. Nuclear experts predict Fukushima may kill as many as 200,000 from increased cancers in the next 50 years. Spent waste containment pools continue to fill up at sites across the world. And yet, a majority of Iowa's legislators appear to be willing to charge MidAmerican customers up-front for the privilege of hanging out the "Iowa is open for business for nuclear" sign, and making Warren Buffet's dream come true.