Just Say No To Nuclear Power

For me, this is pretty much a “no-brainer” type of statement. While there may have been a period of time when I was in Elementary, Junior High, or High School where I reflexively supported the nuclear industry because “We’re America and we can do everything,” once I actually started thinking seriously about the topic of nuclear power, it became glaringly obvious to me that it is unsupportable.

I am not a scientist but as I’ve watched and read as thing have unfolded in Japan, it has been reinforced once again that the scientists are often just as clueless as the rest of us. For every scientist who resigns over design flaws, I would wager there are one hundred who just see it as business as usual (and no, I don’t have anything to back that statement up other than a gut feeling – so we’ll call it a WAG.) Chernobyl. Three Mile Island. Fukushima. These are just the best known few of the nuclear disasters that we are aware of.

Yet here we sit, two weeks after the massive earthquake in Japan that caused the current problems and for every Germany moving away from Nuclear power there’s a China or France still supporting the industry.

Here in the United States, the nuclear industry is protected by the US government which is obligated by law to pay the costs of a disaster. From CNN today (Friday, March 25):

Under current law, the utilities that operate nuclear power plants are responsible for a fund that pays the first $12.6 billion in damages and lawsuits resulting from any incident.


A 1982 study from Sandia National Laboratories, commissioned for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the consequences of a nuclear meltdown would be catastrophic. The disaster could cause 50,000 fatalities and $314 billion in property damage.

In today’s money, that’s $720 billion.

The most recent available cost estimates for the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear emergency by the Japanese government are $309 billion. What happens if/when there’s a mega earthquake on the San Andreas fault? Who knows? Today’s NY Times has an article detailing the problem with reporting rules for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

"Nuclear power plants in the United States are not reporting some equipment failures to the government because of badly written rules, the inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has warned.

Those rules, which are often contradictory, leave the commission without the muscle to enforce the federal law requiring the reporting of such problems, the inspector general said in a report issued Wednesday.

From December 2009 to September 2010, the report said, the commission found 24 instances in which equipment problems were not properly reported. If the rules are not improved, it said, they “could reduce the margin of safety for operating nuclear power reactors.”

At the same time, today’s Times has another article on lobbying by the nuclear industry:

"Nuclear executives, girding for a fight, have already held 20 briefings for Washington lawmakers and others about the events in Japan and the potential lessons learned at home. They have been putting out guidance on increased safeguards for reactors, and giving reporters tours of nuclear plants.

The message: Despite the events in Japan, nuclear is a safe, affordable and “clean” energy source that does not spew harmful carbons into the environment or rely on foreign producers."

Let me ask these (rhetorical) questions. If nuclear power is so very safe at all levels, why does the government have to subsidize the building of the plants? Why does the government have to subsidize the nuclear industry and pay the vast majority of claims arising from nuclear problems?

And now we reach the crux of this post. Nuclear power is not “safe, clean energy.” Nuclear reactors cannot be made fool proof. Anything built by humans is by its very definition going to be flawed. As well, nuclear waste has a toxic half life that will remain deadly poisonous for thousands and thousands of years. Humans have a recorded history of roughly 7,500 years. I’ve seen the figure of 25,000 years tossed around as the toxic period for some nuclear wastes and that may be a conservative figure. All the options for disposal of the waste are flawed. Encase it in concrete? Concrete degrades over time. Yucca Mountain? It’s on a fault line.

Everything about the nuclear industry screams trouble at every step of the way. It is not safe. It is not clean. It is not cheap. Strike 3. And as a final point, GE, paying no US taxes on $14.2B profit, is still designing and building nuclear reactors.

And because I can:

25 March, 2011


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