By Jill ZamEk and Jane Swanson, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace
Without doubt, climate change is the most urgent threat of our time. There is a growing misconception, however, that nuclear energy could play a role in addressing this problem. A careful examination of the nuclear industry – the economics, environmental and public health risks, and vulnerability to terrorist attack - will show that nuclear power is not a viable solution to global warming.
- Economically, nuclear energy is not feasible. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes $13 billion in subsidies to the nuclear industry, while allocating only $3.2 billion for renewable energy tax breaks. An extensive study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that if nuclear power were used to combat climate change, a new reactor would have to be built every two weeks until 2050. With construction costs in the range of $2 - $4 billion each, this would amount to trillions of dollars. It is wiser to invest this money in sustainable sources such as wind and solar, which do not burden society with radioactive waste.
- Nuclear power creates lethal radioactive wastes with no permanent repository. To date, no long-term storage solution has been found. The United States Government has been pursuing a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada for over 20 years. But the capacity of the proposed Yucca Mountain site – even if it is eventually licensed – is not adequate to hold all the waste generated from existing nuclear reactors. License extensions and new construction will exacerbate an already problematic situation. Reprocessing produces forms of radioactive wastes that can be used to manufacture weapons, so guarded storage is still required.
- Nuclear waste storage facilities pose safety and security risks. Identified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Office of Homeland Security as terrorist targets, the “spent” fuel pools and the control room are the most vulnerable parts of a nuclear reactor, as neither has concrete domes for protection.
- The daily operation of nuclear plants poses health risks. Equipment ages and employees make mistakes. Over time, tubing and vessels crack and fail. Human error was a major factor in the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The consequences of a major radioactive release could result in thousands of cancer deaths, environmental destruction, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars by contaminating land and properties hundreds of miles downwind of a radioactive release.
Wind, solar, bioenergy, and other renewable sources of energy – coupled with energy efficiency and conservation – can meet our electricity needs. They are less expensive, clean, and readily available. Why squander our limited financial resources investing in nuclear power when better solutions exist?
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