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Reaction to State of the Union Address

January 28, 2010

PSR applauds President Obama’s recommitment to reducing the threats to human life and health posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, while also expressing deep concern about his support for building new unsafe and polluting nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants.

In his State of the Union speech on January 27, 2010, President Obama eloquently described the threat of nuclear weapons as the “greatest danger to the American people” and recommitted his administration to working toward a safer world free of nuclear weapons.  However, he missed the clear and dangerous proliferation links when he stated his support for nuclear energy:  all nuclear power states are potential nuclear weapons states.  Similarly, while applauding the President’s commitment to action to reduce global warming, PSR is deeply concerned about the dangerous health risks and high costs of nuclear power and coal combustion, which he supported in his speech. 

PSR calls on President Obama to focus on real solutions for climate change:  safe, clean renewable energy, efficiency and conservation measures.  Nuclear power is unsafe and polluting; no country in the world has solved the problem of high level radioactive waste.  New reactors will only be built with massive subsidies, including fiscally irresponsible loan guarantees that would put billions of taxpayer dollars on the line for yet another industry bailout.  As the President works to reduce the deficit, this reality must be recognized. 

As an organization of health professionals, PSR is alarmed by the President's embrace of “clean” coal.   There is no such thing.  The term as currently used most often refers to capture of carbon dioxide pollution -- yet most existing coal plants (about 600 nationwide) are not suitable for retrofitting with unproven and risky carbon capture technologies.   In any case, carbon capture is unlikely to be reliable in perpetuity.  Even more troubling, so-called "clean" coal plants still emit toxic pollutants that contribute to four of the five leading causes of death, as documented in PSR’s recent report “Coal’s Assault on Human Health” and are responsible for one of the largest waste streams of toxic pollution in the U.S.  To effectively address the issue of climate change, President Obama must take bold action and be willing to stand up to the industries that are blocking the path to a safer future. 

 “Neither coal nor nuclear power will provide our nation with the clean, safe, renewable sources of energy that we need to protect public health and launch a new energy economy,” noted Dr. Peter Wilk, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We urge the President to lead the nation onto a new path by prioritizing policies that cap carbon pollution and emphasize clean energy production and wise energy use.”

To turn rhetoric into action, PSR also calls on the President to keep his promise to bring both the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) up for a Senate ratification vote and work with the Senate to ensure their passage.  The President must declare clearly and without qualification that the U.S. will not build any new nuclear weapons.  We can’t get to zero by adding to an already bloated stockpile.

“The President cannot achieve these goals alone and needs the help of Congress and the American people,” observed Dr. Wilk.  “We cannot allow politics as usual to trump the safety and security of the American people and the world.  As citizens, it is our responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable for ensuring that they are doing what they can to reduce the greatest dangers to their constituents”.

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