THE PROBLEMS WITH NUCLEAR POWER

Proponents of nuclear power would have you believe that the problems with their energy source are restricted to the profound problems associated with the storage of long-lived radioactive waste, the human fallibilities that have created the most serious nuclear accidents in history, and the ongoing history of near-misses and near-meltdowns in the industry.  Proponents suggest that these problems are practically solved.  Not only are those problems unsolved, there are others that, when all totaled, add up to more problem than solution.

THE TRUE COSTS OF NUCLEAR POWER.  The amount of economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors is disappearing fast.  The cost to mine it is expected to double over the next 10 years.  Since about 1950 the nuclear industry has received ~$75 billion in subsidies for R&D.  This does not include the cost of uranium enrichment which is subsidized by the US government; nor the huge subsidy for liability insurance in the case of an accident, 98% of which is paid for by the government.  The current estimated cost to decommission expired nuke plants is $33 billion, which the government is covering.  These costs, plus the enormous expense in storing radioactive waste for 250,000 years, are not included in the nuclear industry’s estimate of the cost of their electricity.  A 2003 study by M.I.T. estimated the cost of electricity from a light-water reactor to be $0.067 per kWh without the costs of the subsidies added in.  That is more than twice the cost of wind power in Kansas.

EMISSION-FREE NUCLEAR POWER?  Proponents of nuclear power would have you believe that it is free of CO2 emissions.  That isn’t true.  Two of the plants that enrich uranium in the USA, the Paducah, Kentucky and the Portsmouth, Ohio plants rely on electricity from several 1,000 MW coal-fired plants.  Those plants emit several million tons of CO2 annually.  Plus 93% of chlorofluorocarbon gas emitted annually comes from these plants.  CFC’s are 10,000 times more potent as global warming gases than CO2.  Large quantities of fossil fuels are used in all the stages of the nuclear fuel cycle.  Mining and milling uranium, construction of plants, and transportation and long-term storage of the radioactive waste all involve use of fossil fuels.  Studies have concluded that nuclear plants actually are responsible for emissions amounting to about 1/3 the emissions of a natural gas plant.

One must not discount the other dangerous emissions not related to global warming that come from nuclear plants.  Nuclear reactors release millions of curies of radioactive isotopes into the air and water every year.  These emissions are unregulated, much like CO2.  These unregulated isotopes include the noble gases krypton, xenon, and argon which, if inhaled by a person living near a reactor, are absorbed and then emit high-energy gamma radiation which can cause cancer and mutations to genes.

 

STORAGE OF WASTE.  Each 1000 MW nuclear reactor produces about 33 tons of hot, extremely radioactive waste each year.  80,000 tons of radioactive waste sits in cooling pools next to 103 US nuclear plants, waiting to be shipped to a storage facility yet to be found.  US Senator Harry Reid, of Nevada, has stated that YuccaMountain in his state will never be used for this purpose.  We shouldn’t want it anyway.  It is a volcanic mountain transected by 32 earthquake faults.  The area inside the mountain thought to be the ideal spot has also been found to be leaking corrosive water that over time could compromise storage casks and cause a disaster of huge proportions.  So, we still have no place for safe storage.

TERRORIST ATTACK THREAT.  Proponents of nuclear power will tell you that with proper protection measures from Homeland Security, the risk of attack on reactors, storage sites, or transportation vehicles is very low.  First, we need to consider the cost of protecting these attack targets.  It will certainly be in the billions of dollars.  Then we need to consider the cost of just one successful attack (maybe from a small single engine plane loaded with explosives) near an urban area.  You tell me, what cost would you place on making Kansas City a wasteland for at least 600 years?  The Iodine 131, Strontium 90, Cesium 137, Plutonium 239, all some of the most dangerous elements known on earth, would destroy most living things.  There is also the constant possibility of the theft of plutonium, only 5kg of which is needed to make a bomb.  Each of the 103 reactors in this country makes 200kg per year of it.

SUMMARY.  Because nuclear power is far more expensive than wind power, because it produces global warming gases, because it emits toxic elements, because it is a target identified by terrorist organizations, and because it could be used to make nuclear weapons, I urge you to reject nuclear power as a source of electricity for Kansas.

By Joe Spease

Courtesy of you

The content of this website and the Sierra Club is driven by its citizen volunteers and supporters like you. Join us today and become part of America's largest environmental organization.

Join the Club
Or support our efforts financially:
Donate Now