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Here they go again. After thirty years without a firm order, the atomic power companies are pushing their radioactive, costly technology for a comeback on the backs of you the taxpayers.
The old argument in the Seventies was that nuclear powered electricity would reduce our dependence on foreign oil. With only three percent of our electricity coming from burning petroleum, the pro-nuke lobby is now jumping on the global warming bandwagon. Uranium, they argue, does not release greenhouse gases like coal or oil.
What nuclear lobbies ignore is all the coal and oil that needs to be burned to enrich uranium, to transport radioactive wastes with protective highway and rail convoys and provide security since they would be a priority target for sabotage.
Apart from that, let’s start with the technological insanity of the nuclear fuel cycle-from uranium mines and their deadly tailings, to the refining and fabrication into fuel rods, to the multi-shielded dome-like nuclear plant, to the necessity for perfect operation of the facility, to the still unresolved problems of the location and containment of hot radioactive wastes and contaminated material for the next 200,000 years!
All this for one objective-to boil water into steam. A pretty complex chain of events in order to boil water. There are far better, cheaper ways to meet the electricity needs of today’s generation without burdening future generations for centuries with the deadly waste products.
Back in the Seventies, before the public rose up and said no to nuclear power, helped by Wall Street’s reluctance to finance these trouble-prone plants, the Atomic Energy Commission projected the construction of 1000 atomic power plants in the U.S. by the year 2000. There are today 103 plants.
Placing the predicted 100 plants up and down the California coastline would have been an act of peerless recklessness, especially given the earthquake faults.
Just this week, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Kashiwazaki, Japan and disabled a gigantic nuclear power plant which the New York Times reported, "raised new concerns about the safety of the nation’s accident-plagued nuclear industry." It turns out that this plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power, may be sitting directly above an earthquake fault line.
Each day, reports show damage greater than believed the day before, including radiation leaks, damage to exhaust ducts, burst pipes and other "malfunctions" beyond the fires. Several hundred barrels of radioactive waste were toppled.
The problem with nuclear power is that it gets one bite of the apple. Just one major meltdown could provoke a demand to close the industry down by overwhelming adverse public outrage. You see, way back in the Fifties and Sixties, the Atomic Energy Commission, a booster-regulatory agency for atomic power plants, estimated that an "area the size of Pennsylvania" would be contaminated in such a disaster.
Remember, Chernobyl in Ukraine is still surrounded by vacant towns and villages following the 1986 tragedy. Radioactivity found its way as far as sheep in England, nuts grown in Turkey and elsewhere.
Do you know any other industry producing electricity that has to have specific evacuation plans for miles around it, is inherently a national security risk, cannot be privately insured without Congress mandating severe limited liability in case of massive casualties and requires massive taxpayer subsidies?
A most concise, authoritative case against the electric atom was recently released titled "Why a Future for the Nuclear Industry is Risky" by a group of environmental health and social investment groups. (See www.cleanenergy.org)
In the introduction to the report, the case against nuclear energy was summarized this way: "Wind power and other renewable technologies, combined with energy efficiency, conservation and cogeneration can be much more cost effective and can be deployed much sooner than new nuclear power plants."
Yes indeed, efficiency or conservation, with a national mission, can cut in half the waste of energy, using currently available technology and know-how, before the first privately capitalized nuclear plant opens. One scientist once described the primary output of electric generating plants as "heating the heavens."
If this insensitive industry cannot be revived by Uncle Sam’s tax treasury, Wall Street certainly has given no indication that private investment would take on the risk. Investment money is pouring presently into wind power, solar and other renewables and this is just the early springtime for these benign sources of energy.
The International Energy Agency sees a 25% cost reduction for wind power and a 50% cost reduction for solar photovoltaics from 2001 to 2020. Without Wall Street’s private capital and with rising construction and operating costs in other countries, the prospect for nuclear power being competitive, even deducting decommissioning costs, and the many millennia of waste storage costs, is not there.
Add a major accident and you’ll see, in addition to casualties and contaminated land and property, every private investor running for cover while the bill is passed on to taxpayers.
Here is a suggestion to put the industry’s propaganda to rest. Will any high nuclear industry executive debate physicist Amory Lovins at the National Press Club filled with electric company leaders? If so, please visit http://www.rmi.org and contact Mr. Lovins.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions