No contemporary energy source is as environmentally irresponsible, imposes such a high liability on taxpayers, or is as dangerous as nuclear power. Industry efforts to “greenwash” nuclear energy make a mockery of clean energy goals. Although nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide, promoting nuclear risks to reduce greenhouse emissions is the classic jump from the frying pan into the fire!
The Real Dirt on “Clean” Nuclear Energy
- The mining, milling and enrichment of uranium into nuclear fuel are extremely energy-intensive and result in the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
- Estimated “energy recovery time” for a nuclear power plant is about 10 to 18 years, depending on the richness of uranium ores mined for fuel. This means that a nuclear power plant must operate for at least a decade before all the energy consumed to build and fuel the plant has been earned back and the power station begins to produce net energy. By comparison, wind power takes less than a year to yield net energy, and solar or photovoltaic power nets energy in less than three years.
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has calculated that collective radiation doses amounting to 12 cancer deaths can be expected for each 20-year term a reactor operates, as a result of radioactive emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle and routine reactor operations. This calculation assumes no unplanned accidents and does not consider radiation releases from high-level nuclear waste “disposal” activities. Nor are nonfatal health impacts related to radiation exposure counted in this tally.
- Thermal pollution from nuclear power plants adversely affects marine ecosystems. “Once-through” cooling systems in use at half the U.S. nuclear reactors discharge billions of gallons of water per day at temperatures up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the water into which it flows.
The Waste Problem
- A typical reactor will generate 20 to 30 tons of high-level nuclear waste annually. There is no known way to safely dispose of this waste, which remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years.
- The nuclear power industry has amassed hundreds of thousands of tons of “low-level” radioactive waste (or, in industry and regulatory parlance, “slightly radioactive solid materials”), which has created an enormous disposition problem. The industry hopes to absolve itself from liability for this waste through the insane practice of “releasing” it from regulatory control, whereupon it could be sent to recycling facilities and ultimately end up in common consumer products!
- Isolating nuclear waste from people and the environment requires significant energy and resources.
Safety and Security Risks
- Nuclear power poses unique safety and security threats, relative to other sources of electricity. A severe accident or attack at a nuclear plant could be catastrophic.
- Accidents do happen, as history has taught us at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, most recently, the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo, Ohio, which came dangerously close to disaster when acid corroded a hole in its reactor head. Don’t forget reports that the al Qaeda terrorist organization considered an attack on a U.S. nuclear power station.
- The insurance industry won’t insure against nuclear power plant accidents. Nuclear power plant operators rely on a government-backed “Price-Anderson” insurance scheme that limits their liability in the event of an accident or attack.
And Expensive Too!
- The Department of Energy admits that “Economic viability for a nuclear plant is difficult to demonstrate.” Since the inception of commercial nuclear power in the United States 50 years ago, this industry has been propped up by huge government subsidies.
Now the Bush administration wants to spend our tax dollars to promote the construction of new nuclear reactors. Energy legislation before the House would authorize production tax credits for new nuclear power plants, which would cost $5.7 billion by 2025, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Throwing more tax dollars at nuclear power will not make it safer, cleaner or more economical. Further, these subsidies to a mature industry distort electricity markets by granting nuclear power an unfair and undesirable advantage over safe, clean energy alternatives.