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Sunday, June 19, 2005

PR Can't "Greenwash" Nuclear Power--It's Still a Dirty Business

Nuclear power is a dirty and dangerous way to generate electricity, and no amount of PR-industry hype is going to change that. But they're sure trying!

http://www.prwatch.org/node/3679

Back in 1974--31 years ago--as a student at Antioch College, I had a class assignment to do an independent research project on the plusses and minuses of nuclear power generation. I came into this with a relatively open mind--and I came away scared. Keep in mind, this was before Seabrook, before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and before there was any kind of world-wide anti-nuclear movement.

But there was plenty of research out there. The more I read, the more I became convinced that nuclear power is dangerous, unhealthful, and even uneconomical, out of all proportion to the supposed "benefits." In 1979, I even wrote my first book on the subject (a long-out-of-print volume called Nuclear Lessons, co-authored with Richard Curtis and Elizabeth Hogan, who had written Perils of the Peaceful Atom back in 1969).

A few among many issues:

  • Accidents. We didn't hear about them, probably because the national movement for safe energy had not yet coalesced--but there were serious accidents at the Enrico Fermi reactor in Michigan in 1966, and Browns Ferry, Alabama, in 1975--and a deeply disturbing record of thousands of minor incidents at plants all over the country, many of which could have become severe had one or two factors gone differently.
  • Insurance. The only reason there is a nuclear power industry in the US is because of a heavily subsidized limited-liability insurance program called the Price-Anderson Act. When the utilities would have been held responsible for full damage in the event of an accident, they simply refused to build, even when the government threatened to get into the power business and do it without industry cooperation.
  • Health and Environment. The radioactivity associated with nuclear power generation is known to cause cancer. Workers in the industry have had much higher incidences of problems. And it's not even true that there are no global warming issues associated with nukes. The plants use bodies of water for cooling, and that water is re-released into the environment at a much hotter temperature, disrupting fish lifecycles and warming the water.
  • Waste Disposal. Highly toxic, carcinogenic nuclear wastes have to be kept safe and isolated from the environment--and from terrorists--for up to 250,000 years. To put that in perspective, there was essentially zero human civilization until about 30,000 years ago, and no urban culture until about 10,000 years ago.
  • Economics. Believe it or not, looking at the entire mining-milling-transportation-consumption-disposal cycle, nuclear energy consumes more power than it produces! So all this risk is for no benefit. And because it's extremely capital-intensive, nuclear power produces relatively few jobs. How stupid can we be?
This societal stupidity is even more bizarre in light of the easy, environmentally benign alternatives: solar, small-scale wind and hydro, etc. We've had these technologies for years. We could be entirely energy self-sufficient without using any nuclear or fossil fuels, had we made a society-wide commitment to that goal back in 1974 when I was doing my research. And oh yes, I don't think we'd be at war in Iraq now if oil were a non-issue.

1 Comments:

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Chacha Joe said...

Shel,

As you know I am pretty much in agreement with you on this issue and had my doubts raised even before I had to think about it.

That was in 1954 when the late James Cameron in the now defunct News Chronicle (newspaper associated with Charles Dickens) revealed that there had been a fire at Calder Hall, the ground breaking first peaceful nuclear power station.

That same site, now called Sellafield (name changed after every incident) is still spewing radioactive water into the Irish Sea.

There are two other points that could be added to your list. The first is that, because the quality of uranium ore is declining (and a vast increase in world demand will mean a very rapid drop in quality) the generation - Megawatt for Megawatt of electricity - will actually result in more CO2 emissions than the equivalent generation in coal plants.

The other point is that the fissile material need for nuclear armaments is recovered from spen fuel rods. So: no nuclear power, no new plutonium to blow ourselves to bits with.

Chacha Joe (aka Joseph Harris)

 

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