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Nuclear Power’s Promise Pales

Nuclear Power’s Promise Pales


Care2 Earth Month: Back to Basics

This year, Care2 decided to expand Earth Day into Earth Month, since there is so much to explore when it comes to the environment. Every day in April, we’ll have a post about some of the most important topics for the environment, exploring and explaining the basics. It’s a great tool to help you get started with helping the environment — or help explain it to others. See the whole series here.

Ever since the atom was unleashed, some have said that the future of energy is nuclear. Even some prominent environmentalists argue that nuclear power is a green energy source because it does not cause carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Like so many environmental issues, nuclear power is complex. Here are some facts and figures to help you decide where you stand on nuclear power:

Nuclear power is big. The US is the largest generator of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30 percent of the global generation. Thirty power companies operate 104 plants in 31 states in the US. Most reactors were built between 1967 and 1990. The top 10 companies account for 70% of generation.

We depend on it. Our dependence on nuclear power has actually increased. Nuclear accounted for 11 percent of all power generation in 1980 in the US; it was up to almost 20 percent in 2008.

Nuclear is relatively inexpensive – in the short term. According to the World Nuclear Association: “The operational cost of nuclear power – 1.87 ˘/kWh in 2008 – is 68% of electricity cost from coal and a quarter of that from gas.”

Waste not… However, the picture changes when one examines the cost of disposing of nuclear waste. This ongoing problem is in need of urgent attention. A blue ribbon panel reporting to the Energy Secretary has noted the urgency of dealing with nuclear waste amid problems of where to site storage facilities, how to fund them, and what body should have oversight. Some 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at about 75 operating and shutdown reactor sites around the U.S., with more than 2,000 tons being produced each year.

The US government provides incentives to build nuclear power plants. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers tax credits and federal loan guarantees to incentivize construction of advanced nuclear power plants. This year saw the approval of the first new nuclear plant construction since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979.

Nuclear jobs are green jobs?! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “In private industry, the utilities industry accounted for 65,700 Green Goods and Services sector jobs, or 11.9 percent of total private utilities employment. Among theindustries involved in private sector electric power generation, nuclear power had the highest GGS employment with 35,800 jobs in 2010.”

Nuclear isn’t safe. After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year the world saw the unthinkable happen, as a nuclear power plant on the coast was hit by the double disaster and suffered a meltdown. Could such a catastrophe happen elsewhere? The Fukushima events have greatly affected the adoption and promotion of nuclear energy around the world. Germany, for instance, shut down eight nuclear plants in the wake of Fukushima and revamped its energy policy. Switzerland and Spain have banned any new plant construction.

In the US, five nuclear reactors are in zones prone to earthquakes. Given the danger of released radioactivity, nuclear plants need far greater safety and security than, say, a solar power facility. Any number of elements, even a large swarm of jellyfish, can threaten a nuclear plant.

More Americans (but not most) are questioning the value of nuclear power. A recent Harris survey shows that slightly more Americans (though not a majority) now believe the risks of nuclear energy outweigh the benefits (41% to 40%).

There are alternatives…and no easy answers. While renewable energy still accounts for just 11 percent of US energy use, the sector is growing. Other countries are making great strides with renewables: Iceland generates over 80 percent of its energy from renewables.  In addition to wind, wave, solar and geothermal alternatives, new technologies and efficiencies are needed. A 2009 study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that more than 58 percent of the energy generated in the US is wasted every year due to inefficiencies such as wasted heat, particularly in the transportation sector. Government subsidies also create false advantages and artificially low prices for the nuclear and fossil fuel industries.

From the Titanic to the Hindenberg to Three Mile Island and Fukushima, time and again we have seen that technology is neither perfect nor predictable, and is often no match for nature. There is no magic cure to our quest for clean, abundant energy, but for many in the green movement, that search cannot include nuclear…the consequences of failure are just too high.


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6:15PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

I'm a very surprised by people on this site supporting Nuclear anything. If you need proof of why Nuclear is dangerous, and why the Fukushima disaster is the NUMBER ONE issue that the whole world needs to address and why everything else - elections, flouride, vaccinations, the economy pale in comparison, see this, I warn you though, you will not like it:

9:34PM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

I would rather see new reactors build and the older ones retired because of how old they are and the simple fact that deterioration occurs with age.

9:55PM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

People don't seem to be aware the Fukishima is far from over. They are pouring water over it daily that then runs into the ocean and creates steam that is released in the air. They do not know what to do with the rods or the corium (melted down core) This stuff is floating over in the ocean and blowing across the world in the air. There have already been mutated plants found along the west coast. I have been against nuclear since they first raised the issue until they had a way to dispose of the waste. It is time we forget about nuclear everything and go back to natural methods. That goes for weapons too. Maybe if people had to use spears up close they wouldn't be so quick to kill each other.

11:39AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

JimC. Why don't you take a good read of Hartson D.'s post, and perhaps reread the part about radioactive waste within this article while you're at it. There is no safe way to maintain nuclear power. Sure, dump it into a sealable container, and who knows, maybe they'll deteriorate over a thousand years and kill off whatever life exists living around said exposed container. But that is not your concern then anymore, is it.

9:51AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

The primary source of GHG is fossil fuel burning electrical generating facilities.
7 Billion humans generate vast quantities of excrement. I believe this excrement is capable of providing all human electrical demands.
Right now hydrogen is perceived as a negative by product, of Nuclear Energy, when it should be the product, as the Pentagon has considered. reference info Request for Information (RFI) on Deployable Reactor Technologies ...
Large scale conversions sites are intended to replace fossil fuel powered electrical facilities the Primary Source of Carbon Emissions.
In what officials now say was a mistaken strategy to reduce the waste's volume, organic chemicals were added years ago which were being bombarded by radiation fields, resulting in unwanted hydrogen. The hydrogen was then emitted in huge releases that official studies call burps, causing "waste-bergs," chunks of waste floating on the surface, to roll over.

Dennis Baker
106-998 Creston Avenue
Penticton BC V2A1P9
cell phone 250-462-3796
Phone / Fax 778-476-2633

4:15AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

Whenever I hear about Nuclear I think about Russia and then Japan. Once leaked it lives on for who knows how long destroying life. It just is not worth the risk.

1:27AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

Ernest R.: How do you figure that the U.S. is "overpopulated". Have you ever flown on an airline and looked down over the land as you flew. If you did, you surely noticed that the U.S. is, in fact, sparsely populated. You might occasionally see a small spot on the ground that is a town or city, but the land is mostly empty. Of course, there are particular localities that may be densely populated, but they're just a tiny part of the overall picture. Such is the case nearly everywhere on earth. Even China, the most populous country on earth, is mostly vacant. You seem to lack an awareness of the vastness (and emptiness) of mother earth.

1:16AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

James K.: How do you figure that a company who provides you with solar panels, and installs them, should not be paid for them? If you provided someone's home with a new furnace, and installed it for them, wouldn't you expect to be paid for it? Do you not expect to pay a utility company for the provision and gas and electricity? I'm at a loss to understand your thinking! Have you never paid a utility bill for gas, water or electricity?

1:10AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

Ernest R.: How many people have been killed by nuclear meltdowns, such as Three Mile Island and Fukushima? Chernobyl is an exception - it was using long outdated technology that the U.S. had abandoned in the late 1940's. All practical energy sources involve some risk, but it seems to me that nuclear is overall the safest kind of energy production (I don't consider wind and solar to be practical on a large scale).

8:07PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

We don't need nor want nuclear power. They are nothing more than a disaster in the making. I guess folks haven't learned from history. They all said we are capable of handling these type of emergencies and look at us all now.

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