Monday, February 19, 2007

Nuclear Power-Why it is Dangerous, Costly and Unnecessary

by Hattie Nestel

The colossal failure of nuclear power became apparent to most of the world more than 30 years ago. By the end of the seventies it was well known that the economics, safety and reliability issues associated with nuclear power had failed the test. By 1992 the building of 121 reactors had been cancelled. The last reactor was ordered over 30 years ago and took 23 years to complete."The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale," reported Forbes magazine in 1985. "The utility industry has already invested $125 billion in nuclear power, with an additional $140 billion to come before the decade is out, and only the blind or the biased, can now think that most of the money was well spent."
Despite being a dangerous, financial disaster the industry found opportunity to create a nuclear renaissance predicated on the erroneous premise that nuclear power will prevent global warming. The government and nuclear corporations commandeer hundreds of millions of dollars to sell us on the idea that nuclear power will combat global warming. Today we see Entergy¹s ads throughout Vermont saying,"Green-not Greenhouse" and Entergy hiring PR spokespersons like Patrick Moore to twist the facts and try to convince us that nuclear energy is clean, reliable, and sustainable.
It is simply not true. The entire nuclear fuel chain beginning with mining uranium, transporting and processing the fuel, construction and storing wastes are heavily fossil fuel dependent. However, the most important issue remains that nuclear power is inherently dangerous. It has always been known in the scientific community that there is no accident free reactor and no safe level of exposure to radiation. The National Academy of Science has now confirmed this in their 2005 BEIR V11 report. (Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation). The dangers include the daily release of radioactive emissions from every reactor. "Each day, a nuclear reactor releases more than 100 chemical into the air," states Joseph Mangano, national coordinator of Radiation and Public Health Project. "These chemicals, which are created only in nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, are radioactive and cause cancer by damaging cells. After entering the body through breathing and food, each chemical affects the body in a different way. Iodine 131 attacks the thyroid gland, strontium 90 seeks out bone and cesium 137 disperses throughout soft tissues.
The fetus and infant with undeveloped immune systems and rapidly dividing cells are most affected." These illnesses are passed on to future generations through the sperm, ovum and mothers milk til the end of time.As nuclear power produces electricity it also produces radioactive waste which is now stored on site in spent fuel rods. Exposure to spent fuel rods means instant death. "The magnitude of the radiation generated in nuclear power plants is almost beyond belief. The original uranium fuel that is subject to the fission process becomes 1 billion times more radioactive in the reactor core. A thousand megawatt nuclear power plant contains as much long-lived radiation as that produced by the explosion of one thousand Hiroshima bombs." writes Helen Caldicott. Much of the radioactive waste generated by nuclear power has an extremely long half-life ranging from plutonium 239 with a half-life of 24,000 years to iodine 129 with a half-life of 15.7 million years. We are told that reprocessing will solve the problem. However, reprocessing results in the separation of weapons usable plutonium which adds significantly to the risks of proliferation.
Presidents Carter and Ford outlawed reprocessing in the United States in 1976-1977 due to the environmental and proliferation risks. Since there are no repositories qualified to take this waste, they must remain on-site at each of the 103 reactors in the U.S. The Yucca mountain repository in Nevada costing $9 billion taxpayer dollars over 20 years is generally acknowledged to be geologically unstable and unsuitable for long-term radioactive waste. There is no solution in sight.Nuclear power is the stepping-stone to all nuclear weapons. Nuclear power is totally interdependent and interconnected to nuclear weapons. Because uranium can be used in both nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs, nuclear power has significant impacts on proliferation.
Mohamed ElBaredi, the director general of the IAEA, noted, "The technical barriers to mastering the essential steps of uranium enrichment- and to designing weapons-have eroded over time, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that the control of technology, in and of itself, is not an adequate barrier against further proliferation."Preventing global warming through the use of nuclear power is no more true than the previous rationale promoted by president Eisenhower in 1953 that using nuclear power will create electricity "too cheap to meter".
Nuclear power construction is a prohibitively costly and lengthy process. It is dangerous both in the present and during the next million years when the waste generated today must be safeguarded by our descendents. The risks of catastrophic reactor accidents, the potential for the nuclear fuel cycle to enable nuclear weapons proliferation and the impossibility of managing highly radiotoxic nuclear waste for the long-term, should make it clear that nuclear power is not a viable energy option for now or ever.We can have safe, reliable, sustainable and locally generated energy at affordable prices without nuclear power. Energy efficiency is the cheapest and safest way of reducing greenhouse emissions. Conservation practices including improved insulation and passive solar will greatly reduce our emissions. A combination of passive solar systems, thin-film solar cells and wind power will also greatly reduce our emissions. The entire transportation industry is responsible for most of our carbon dioxide emissions. Creating safe, efficient, economical public transportation will go a long way toward reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment estimated we could reduce our electricity usage by 20% to 45% through energy efficiency. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory report shows that between 99% and 124% of the nations electricity can be supplied by renewables by 2020. President Bush's Energy Policy Act of 2005 allocates billions for the nuclear industry. That money can be used to create sustainable safe energies. Decentralized, sustainable technologies work and are becoming ever more efficient and cost effective. Throughout Europe they are implementing those technologies successfully. Let's step up to the plate and say a resounding NO to nuclear power, nuclear weapons and a clear YES to wind, solar, conservation and energy efficiency. It is time to lobby elected officials not to relicense Vermont Yankee when its 40 year license expires in 2012 and get serious about providing efficiencies, conservation and safe, sustainable, renewable energy solutions.

1 comment:

GerryWolff said...

Regarding "Nuclear Power-Why it is Dangerous, Costly and Unnecessary" (2007-02-19), there is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US because there is a simple mature technology that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US and Canada too. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US "could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or ***about seven times the current total US electric capacity***" (emphasis added).

In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at and . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from . The many problems associated with that technology are summarised at .