The nuclear power industry has been pushing the fantasy of yet another “renaissance” of nuclear power, based on the absurd idea that atomic reactors — which operate at 571 degrees Fahrenheit, produce substantial greenhouse gas emissions and, periodically, explosions — can somehow cool the planet.
But the fact is that no more big, old-style light water reactors are likely to be built in the United States. And the current 93 licensed reactors in this country (there are 400-plus worldwide) grow increasingly dangerous every day.
As a green power advocate since 1973, I’ve visited dozens of reactor sites throughout the U.S. and Japan. The industry’s backers portray them as high-tech black boxes that are uniformly safe, efficient and reliable, ready to hum for decades without melt-downs, blow-ups or the constant emissions of heat, radiation, chemical pollution and eco-devastation that plague us all.
In reality, the global reactor fleet is riddled with widely varied and increasingly dangerous defects. These range from inherent design flaws to original construction errors, faulty components, fake replacement parts, stress-damaged (“embrittled”) pressure vessels, cracked piping, inoperable safety systems, crumbling concrete, lethal vulnerabilities to floods, storms and earthquakes, corporate greed and unmanageable radioactive emissions and wastes — to name a few.
Heat, radiation and steam have pounded every reactor’s internal components. They are cracked, warped, morphed and transmuted into rickety fossils virtually certain to shatter in the next meltdown.
Twice-bankrupt Pacific Gas & Electric of California has been found guilty in the 2010 burning deaths of eight San Bruno residents caused by under-maintained gas pipes. The company was also convicted in the deaths of more than eighty people when its faulty wires ignited whole northern California forests and towns in a series of fires.
Today, the utility’s two uninsured Diablo Canyon reactors threaten more than ten million people living downwind with potential catastrophes made possible by any of a dozen nearby earthquake faults (including the San Andreas).
In 2003, the Perry and Davis-Besse power plants’ operators blacked out 50 million homes in southern Canada and the northeastern United States. The FBI has linked them to a $61-million-bribe handed to the majority leader of the Ohio House of Representatives, and possibly tens of thousands more to the former chair of the state Public Utilities Commission.
The industry’s “regulators” have turned blind eyes to crumbling concrete at the Seabrook and Davis-Besse facilities, whose “hole-in-the-head” defects almost brought Chernobyl to the shores of Lake Erie. When Diablo Canyon’s resident site inspector warned the plant could not withstand a likely seismic shock, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut him up and moved him out.
The industry’s four most recent reactor construction projects include two at South Carolina’s Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station— totally abandoned after over $10 billion was spent — and two at Georgia’s Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, years late and costing more than $30 billion. Plagued by corruption and incompetence, design flaws and labor problems, Plant Vogtle might never open, especially in light of the astonishing advances in renewable and efficiency technologies, which have completely buried any economic or ecological justification for atomic power, new or old.
Desperate atomic cultists including Bill Gates are now touting small modular reactors. But they’re unproven, can’t deploy for years to come, can’t be guarded against terrorists and can’t beat renewables in safety, speed to build, climate impacts, price or job creation.
Our energy future should consist of modern solar, wind, battery and LED/efficiency technologies, not nuclear reactors. Let’s work to guarantee that none of them explode before we get there.
This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.