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Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.

Atomic (Nuclear) Power

March 2011

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D.

It should not have taken the sad, tragic recent events in Japan to increase serious worldwide concerns about the multiply awful consequences of nuclear power, an allegedly "clean" form of energy. In addition to the well-known consequences of Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, there has been unremitting evidence for decades of routine radiation exposure of workers in many of these atomic power plants, especially older ones.

Aside from the dire health consequences to workers and to those living near these plants (or downwind from these plants in the case of a release), the true economic costs of atomic power have been maliciously understated by ignoring or underplaying, for example, the costs of decommissioning plants when they have aged enough to become more dangerous or the cost per kilowatt hour compared to other energy sources.

It is long overdue to say "no" to the licensing of any new atomic power reactors and to the relicensing of existing reactors. At a recent White House briefing, however, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman clearly stated that nuclear power remains part of the U.S. energy policy. "Seventy percent of the carbon-free electricity in this country comes from nuclear power," Poneman said. "So we do see nuclear power as continuing to play an important role in building a low-carbon future, but be assured that we will take the safety aspect of that as of our paramount concern." In addition to being extremely misleading - since only 20 percent of U.S. energy is from atomic power - this sounds like the kind of assurances the Japanese atomic power industry used to give.

In the wake of this still-unfolding disaster, Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen's Energy Program, called on the government to do the following:

  1. Immediately stop activity relating to relicensing aging U.S. reactors;
  2. Halt all activity geared toward building new reactors; and
  3. End federal subsidies - such as loan guarantees - for commercial nuclear power, which total $500 billion to date.

Instead, the U.S. should focus on developing wind power and assisting families in the installation of rooftop solar systems.

To sign the petition, visit:

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