Greenwashing Nuclear Power


In George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, the government uses the slogans war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Now, Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, April 9, 2005) would have us believe that nuclear energy is green.

Kristof’s argument that "nukes are green" is out of touch with reality. Kristof would have us believe that the truly green energy sources ­ solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal ­ are no match compared to the benefits of nuclear power. He argues that nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases. Presumably, in Kristof’s logic, the gigantic steam towers, reactor buildings and nuclear fuel spring from the earth as naturally as the sun shines and the wind blows.

Kristof offers an extremely narrow examination of the issue. He fails to consider that the construction of a nuclear plant, as well as fueling, decommissioning and storage of spent fuel, relies heavily upon fossil fuels, which generate vast quantities of greenhouse gases. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Energy Information Administration says the global strategy to mitigate carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, besides conservation programs, should include retiring coal-fired plants in favor of natural gas and renewables and not to construct new nuclear plants.

Kristof also fails to accurately analyze the economics of the nuclear industry. Monstrous government subsidies have kept the industry afloat. Without massive subsidization, the nuclear industry’s insurance liabilities would have driven the industry into the ground years ago. The IAEA Energy Information Administration reports that "new nuclear power plants presently cost more to build than do fossil fuel plants. This includes fossil fuel plants such as those fired by natural gas, a fuel that carries lower environmental costs"

Combined costs of new nuclear plants with the unknown yet enormous costs to store the more than 45,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste produced to date, promises to handicap future generations with a gargantuan debt. If nuclear energy is accepted as green and reactors multiply across the world, future generations can expect not only an economic nightmare, but also the potential for accidents such as Chernobyl, calamitous terrorist attacks and an environment strewn with radioactivity.

Kristof is dead wrong in suggesting that burdening future generations with nuclear wastes buried underground is more reasonable than burdening them with a warmer world in which Manhattan is submerged under 20 feet of water. Endorsing nuclear energy as green and calling for an expanded national presence for nuclear energy will not solve the global warming crisis, it will only exacerbate it. Accepting nuclear energy as green will increase the number of targets terrorists might strike; increase the amount of viciously radioactive waste in need of heavily protected long-term storage; and increase the amount of ozone depleting gases emitted into the atmosphere.

Replacing fossil fuels with truly renewable energy sources could be accomplished with government subsidization for a fraction of what the US is currently spending to subsidize the nuclear power industry and to secure our access to Middle East oil through military intervention and foreign aid.

Unless war is peace and freedom is slavery, then nuclear energy is not green. Policy makers must realize they need not choose between two poisons: burdening future generations with nuclear wastes buried underground or burdening the future with a warmer world submerged under water. Kristof glosses over the true viability of clean, renewable energy sources. With sufficient funding, research, and legislative support, future generations won’t have to face the bleak Orwellian future that Kristof implies is inevitable.

LUKE BROTHERS is the Communications and Outreach Associate at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.


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