10 Strikes Against The Further Use Of Nuclear Power.

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I wanted to post this because I feel that we do not need nuclear power to meet our energy demands if we put the money into alternative sources and concentrate on conservation. I think it is a very strong anti-nuclear statement that needs to be spread around. From Co-Op America: Solar power, wind power, geothermal power, hybrid and electric cars, and aggressive energy efficiency are climate solutions that are safer, cheaper, faster, more secure, and less wasteful than nuclear power. Our country needs a massive influx of investment in these solutions if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Thankfully, no new nuclear plants have been built in the US for over 30 years. That means that a whole new generation of concerned citizens grew up without knowing the facts about nuclear power – or remembering the terrible disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Currently we draw electric power from about 400 nuclear plants worldwide. Nuclear proponents say we would have to scale up to around 17,000 nuclear plants to offset enough fossil fuels to begin making a dent in climate change. Here’s why:

1. Nuclear waste — The waste from nuclear power plants will be toxic for humans for more than 100,000 years. It’s untenable now to secure and store all of the waste from the plants that exist. Nuclear proponents hope that the next generation of nuclear plants will generate much less waste, but this technology is not yet fully developed or proven. Even if new technology eventually can successful reduce the waste involved, the waste that remains will still be toxic for 100,000 years. No community should have to accept nuclear waste site, or even accept the risks of nuclear waste being transported through on route to its final destination. The waste problem alone should take nuclear power off the table. The Bush administration’s solution – a national nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain – is over-budget and won’t provide a safe solution either. The people of Nevada don’t want that nuclear waste facility there. Also, we would need to transfer the waste to this facility from plants around the country and drive it there – which puts communities across the country at risk.

2. Nuclear proliferation – In discussing the nuclear proliferation issue, Al Gore said, “During my 8 years in the White House, every nuclear weapons proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor program.” Iran and North Korea are reminding us of this every day. We can’t develop a domestic nuclear energy program without confronting proliferation in other countries. Here too, nuclear power proponents hope that the reduction of nuclear waste will reduce the risk of proliferation from any given plant, but again, the technology is not there yet. If we want to be serious about stopping proliferation in the rest of the world, we need to get serious here at home, and not push the next generation of nuclear proliferation forward as an answer to climate change.

3. National Security – Nuclear reactors represent a clear national security risk, and an attractive target for terrorists. In researching the security around nuclear power plants, Robert Kennedy, Jr. found that there are at least eight relatively easy ways to cause a major meltdown at a nuclear power plant. What’s more, Kennedy has sailed boats right into the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson River outside of New York City not just once but twice, to point out the lack of security around nuclear plants. The unfortunate fact is that our nuclear power plants remain unsecured, without adequate evacuation plans in the case of an emergency. Remember the government response to Hurricane Katrina, and cross that with a Chernobyl-style disaster to begin to imagine what a terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant might be like.

4. Accidents – Forget terrorism for a moment, and remember that mere accidents – human error or natural disasters – can wreak just as much havoc at a nuclear power plant site. The Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation and resettlement of nearly 400,000 people, with thousands poisoned by radiation. Here in the US, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 triggered a clean-up effort that ultimately lasted for nearly 15 years, and topped more than one billion dollars in cost. The cost of cleaning up after one of these disasters is simply too great, in both dollars and human cost – and if we were to scale up to 17,000 plants, is it reasonable to imagine that not one of them would ever have a single meltdown? Many nuclear plants are located close to major population centers. For example, there’s a plant just up the Hudson from New York City. If there was an accident, evacuation would be impossible.

5. Cancer — There are growing concerns that living near nuclear plants increases the risk for childhood leukemia and other forms of cancer – even when a plant has an accident-free track record. One Texas study found increased cancer rates in north central Texas since the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant was established in 1990, and a recent German study found childhood leukemia clusters near several nuclear power sites in Europe. According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, a nuclear energy expert, nuclear power plants produce numerous dangerous, carcinogenic elements. Among them are: iodine 131, which bio-concentrates in leafy vegetables and milk and can induce thyroid cancer; strontium 90, which bio-concentrates in milk and bone, and can induce breast cancer, bone cancer, and leukemia; cesium 137, which bio-concentrates in meat, and can induce a malignant muscle cancer called a sarcoma; and plutonium 239. Plutonium 239 is so dangerous that one-millionth of a gram is carcinogenic, and can cause liver cancer, bone cancer, lung cancer, testicular cancer, and birth defects. Because safe and healthy power sources like solar and wind exist now, we don’t have to rely on risky nuclear power.

6. Not enough sites – Scaling up to 17,000 nuclear plants isn’t possible simply due to the limitation of feasible sites. Nuclear plants need to be located near a source of water for cooling, and there aren’t enough locations in the world that are safe from droughts, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other potential disasters that could trigger a nuclear accident. Over 24 nuclear plants are at risk of needing to be shut down this year because of the drought in the Southeast. No water, no nuclear power. There are many communities around the country that simply won’t allow a new nuclear plant to be built – further limiting potential sites. And there are whole areas of the world that are unsafe because of political instability and the high risk of proliferation. In short, geography, local politics, political instability and climate change itself, there are not enough sites for a scaled up nuclear power strategy. Remember that climate change is causing stronger storms and coastal flooding, which in turn reduces the number of feasible sites for nuclear power plants.

7. Not enough uranium – Even if we could find enough feasible sites for a new generation of nuclear plants, we’re running out of the uranium necessary to power them. Scientists in both the US and UK have shown that if the current level of nuclear power were expanded to provide all the world’s electricity, our uranium would be depleted in less than ten years. As uranium supplies dwindle, nuclear plants will actually begin to use up more energy to mine and mill the uranium than can be recovered through the nuclear reactor process. What’s more, dwindling supplies will trigger the use of ever lower grades of uranium, which produce ever more climate-change-producing emissions – resulting in a climate-change catch 22.

8. Costs – Some types of energy production, such as solar power, experience decreasing costs to scale. Like computers and cell phones, when you make more solar panels, costs come down. Nuclear power, however, will experience increasing costs to scale. Due to dwindling sites and uranium resources, each successive new nuclear power plant will only see its costs rise, with taxpayers and consumers ultimately paying the price. What’s worse, nuclear power is centralized power. A nuclear power plant brings few jobs to its local economy. In contrast, accelerating solar and energy efficiency solutions creates jobs good-paying, green collar, jobs in every community. Around the world, nuclear plants are seeing major cost overruns. For example, a new generation nuclear plant in Finland is already experiencing numerous problems and cost overruns of 25 percent of its $4 billion budget. The US government’s current energy policy providing more than $11 billion in subsidies to the nuclear energy could be much better spent providing safe and clean energy that would give a boost to local communities, like solar and wind power do.

9. Private sector unwilling to finance – Due to all of the above, the private sector has largely chosen to take a pass on the financial risks of nuclear power, which is what led the industry to seek taxpayer loan guarantees from Congress in the first place. As the Nuclear Energy Institute recently reported in a brief to the US Department of Energy, 100 percent loan coverage [by taxpayers] is essential because the capital markets are unwilling, now and for the foreseeable future, to provide the financing necessary for new nuclear power plants. Wall Street refuses to invest in nuclear power because the plants are assumed to have a 50 percent default rate. If the private sector has deemed nuclear power too risky, it makes no sense to force taxpayers to bear the burden.

And finally, even if all of the above strikes against nuclear power didn’t exist, nuclear power still can’t be a climate solution because there is

10. No time – Even if nuclear waste, proliferation, national security, accidents, cancer and other dangers of uranium mining and transport, lack of sites, increasing costs, and a private sector unwilling to insure and finance the projects weren’t enough to put an end to the debate of nuclear power as a solution for climate change, the final nail in nuclear’s coffin is time. We have the next ten years to mount a global effort against climate change. It simply isn’t possible to build 17,000 – or 2,500 or 17 for that matter – in ten years.

With so many strikes against nuclear power, it should be off the table as a climate solution, and we need to turn our energies toward the technologies and strategies that can truly make a difference: solar power, wind power, and energy conservation.

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Comments

  1. Eric, It’s interesting that people would spend that much money on something that may last only 85 years (from the link you supplied). And that’s at ‘present levels of consumption’. Energy consumption is expected to increase significantly over the next 20 years alone:

    http://www.celsias.com/2007/11/11/world-energy-outlook-2007/

    Another view on the Uranium supply issue:

    http://www.celsias.com/2008/01/06/nuclear-reactors-for-the-uk-is-this-a-good-idea/

  2. Another shill for an industry that is dying. Sorry, but we want actual clean energy, not toxic waste dumps that future generations have to clean up and deal with.

  3. Yes, I did. And yes, there is. What is the result of using nuclear? Waste. Toxic waste. Where do we put it? In the ground. How does that make any sense to anyone at all?

    The key is reduction and clean renewables; not “keep things as they are” and toxic waste. Sorry to disagree.

  4. Considering that solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind, each of which has their own negative impacts on the environment, all combined could never meet the world’s energy needs, not by a long shot, nuclear is the cleanest option left. It produces less pollution, including less radioactive waste, than one of the other major options: coal.

    And reactors today are extremely safe. There is virtually no risk from cancer from living near one. That’s just FUD. Comparing Three Mile Island to Chernobyl is a misnomer. Not a single person was injured during the Three Mile Island incident, and no one was in any real danger. All that really happened was that some equipment got damaged. It’s a real shame it halted US nuclear energy. That means we have been using coal and oil instead of much cleaner nuclear power.

    If it wasn’t for kneejerk reaction over concerns of nuclear proliferation, spent fuel could be properly processed, greatly reducing it’s risks while generating more fuel (recovering unspent fuel). The problem here is people being a bunch of cowards.

    If you want to look at real problems of nuclear power, it would be the enormous upfront costs and irrational fear (due to fear-mongering essays like this) from the public. It takes several years and billions of dollars to build a reactor. It takes a long time to make up those costs.

    So really, what do you propose instead of nuclear power? The “clean” options you mentioned aren’t going to cut it, and if used on a mass scale would do much more harm to the environment than an equally powerful fission reactor (think solar panels covering hundreds of thousands of square miles of land). There’s no perfect power technology; there can’t be. It’s trade-offs and diminishing returns.

    Power generation has got to be a mix. If you want the cleanest possible energy we can currently produce, it has to be some solar here, some wind here, geo and hydro where it can be done, and nuclear power in between.

    Opposing nuclear power means other options, such as ones based on fossil fuels, which you probably consider worse, are more likely to be implemented. You are working against yourself.

  5. Why do you think there is a big push towards clean renewables? They were never pushed until a few years ago, because oil and coal were the fuel of the day. No more, as people are starting to see that maybe it’s not a good idea to pollute the entire earth so we can leave our TV’s on 24/7.

    Nuclear is bad for humans, animals, and the entire earth. You cannot get rid of the toxic waste it generates, and to use it even more than it already is used it not being forward-thinking at all; it’s the status quo and showing the lack of concern for future generations on earth.

  6. @david: Did you read anything I said? What you want simply doesn’t exist. Nuclear power is the next best thing. There is nothing cleaner that is practical: solar and wind power alone doesn’t even come close to meeting the worlds energy needs.

    And I am not a shill. I’m just an engineer who works for a university and I know a bit about these things.

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