Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ten Strikes Against Nuclear Power

Coal March 21, 2011
In the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor crisis, some countries, like Germany, have responded with due caution,pulling the plug on several nuclear power plants, and calling their nuclear energy programs into question.
Here in the US, the Obama administration’s response to the crisis has been less encouraging.

A week after the disaster, with brave work crews still risking their lives in Japan to bring the situation under control, Energy Secretary Steven Chu affirmed in congressional testimony that the president’s request for $36 billion in appropriations for the nuclear loan guarantee program remains on the table.

There’s no way US taxpayers should underwrite construction of new nuclear power plants in this country. 

While it’s certainly true that our energy needs require a diversity of solutions, nuclear power shouldn’t be in the mix. Solar, wind, and geothermal power, combined with energy efficiency, can overcome our reliance on fossil fuels, provide energy security, and mitigate the climate crisis. Nuclear power may be low-carbon, but it is not clean energy.

Here are the top 10 reasons why we shouldn’t build any more nuclear reactors:

1) Nuclear waste – The waste from nuclear power plants is toxic for humans and the planet for more than 100,000 years. It's untenable now to secure and store all of the waste from the plants that exist. With nuclear proponents saying we need as many as 3,000 more plants (some say it’s more like 17,00) to scale up to meet the climate challenge, nuclear waste containment is unthinkable.

2) Nuclear proliferation – In discussing the proliferation issue, Al Gore said, "During my eight 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.

3) National Security – Nuclear reactors represent a clear national security risk, and an attractive target for terrorists.

4) Accidents – Forget terrorism for a moment, and remember that accidents – human error or natural disasters – can wreak 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.

5) Cancer – There are growing concerns that living near even accident-free nuclear plants increases the risk for childhood leukemia and other cancers. One Texas study found increased cancer rates in north central Texas since a nuclear power plant was established in 1990, and a recent German study found childhood leukemia clusters near several nuclear power sites in Europe.

6) Not enough sites – Nuclear plants must locate near a source of water for cooling, and there aren't enough worldwide locations safe from droughts, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other disasters that could trigger an accident. Over 24 nuclear plants are at risk of shutting down this year because of drought in the Southeast.

7)Not enough uranium – Even if we could find enough 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 nuclear power were expanded to provide all the world's electricity, our uranium would be depleted in ten years.

8) Costs – Some types of energy production 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 see its costs rise.

9) Private sector unwilling to finance – Due to all of the above, the private sector has largely taken a pass on the financial risks of nuclear power, leading the industry to seek taxpayer loan guarantees from Congress instead.

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

10) No time -- We have the next ten years to mount a global effort against climate change. It simply isn't possible to build enough new plants in ten years.

Solar power, wind power, geothermal, and aggressive energy efficiency are climate solutions that are safer, cheaper, faster, more secure, and less wasteful than nuclear power.

With so many strikes against nuclear power, we should challenge our candidates for higher office to remove it from the table as a climate solution, and turn our energies toward the technologies and strategies that can truly make a difference.
Adapted from a speech by Alisa Gravitz, executive director of Green America. 
An expanded version of this editorial can be found at www.greenamerica.org/go/tenstrikes.

No comments:

Post a Comment