Why nuclear power still sucks February 26, 2007Posted by Andreas in Environment, Nuclear Power.
I don’t like nuclear energy. I don’t like living 30 kms from Africa’s sole commercial nuclear power plant. Mostly, this is just a visceral gut reaction – atomic energy worries me and I don’t want it in my life, period.
The nuclear industry has been doing badly in recent years so I haven’t had much need to defend my hatred for it in a more rational way, but unfortunately… nuclear power seems on the comeback trail.
A growing number of governments, including those of the USA, the UK and South Africa, are actively promoting a growing role for atomic power. The nuclear energy lobby is fraudulently promoting itself as a “carbon-free alternative”, the habitually deceitful George W. Bush claims that “nukyular” power is a renewable source of energy and even the erstwhile darling of the new-age green movement, James Lovelock who conceived the Gaia theory, tells us that “nuclear power is the only green solution” to global warming.
The South African government is heavily invested in the nuclear industry and has just revealed a nuclear program involving the construction of 12 conventional and 24 pebble bed modular reactor atomic power stations.
The Cape Argus recently quoted Rob Adam, the CE of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa) as saying that “geographic factors in theand ruled out any sources of power other than nuclear energy.”
This is an astonishing statement, mostly because it is completely untrue. Wind power and solar power are both viable options in the Western and Eastern Cape. I wrote several emails to Necsa to find out if Adam had perhaps been misquoted, but have yet to receive a response.
So what are we to do, faced with all this pro-nuclear propaganda? Educate ourselves. Say no to this dangerous technology, oppose it wherever we can and spread the word. Here are six good reasons to ditch nuclear power for good.
Nuclear power is expensive
Atomic power plants are hugely expensive, take around a decade to build and cost billions to decommission. In fact, a 2002 a UK Cabinet Office report showed that nuclear power costs more than on-shore or off-shore wind electricity per unit generated. Besides, nuclear power stations produce waste that remains lethal to the environment and humans for tens of thousands of years – how on Earth do you put a price on that?
The global nuclear industry has long survived on massive government subsidies and South Africa has been no different. According to the World Council on Renewable Energy, it has been supported worldwide to the tune of a total of at least a trillion (i.e. a thousand billion) dollars, while only $50 billion has been spent on renewable energy. Imagine where we would be today if that ratio had been reversed?
Nuclear power is no solution to global warming
Many politicians and the nuclear industry claim that we need nuclear energy to reduce CO2 emissions which are a major cause of global warming. While it is true that atomic energy plants generate substantially less CO2 than coal-fired power stations, they still produce much more CO2 than renewables.
If nuclear power would contribute 70% of all electricity produced worldwide by 2100 (which would require construction of 10 000 new nuclear reactors), it would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of merely 16%. This is because electricity production is only a comparatively small part of the problem – fossil fuel powered transport being the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
According to Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute,
Each dollar invested in electric efficiency displaces nearly seven times as much carbon dioxide as a dollar invested in nuclear power, without any nasty side effects. If climate change is the problem, nuclear power isn’t the solution. It’s an expensive, one-size-fits-all technology that diverts money and time from cheaper, safer, more resilient alternatives.
Nuclear power is not a renewable source of energy
The world’s total recoverable reserves of uranium (the fuel for most nuclear power plants) have been estimated to be around 4.6 million tonnes. There may be another 10 million tonnes in undiscovered or low-grade ores. The world’s current atomic energy plants need about 75 000 tonnes of uranium oxide per year. Even without building the many new nuclear power stations that atomic advocates are demanding, the present recoverable reserves are enough to satisfy the world’s current nuclear capacity for only another 60 years (source: Is nuclear power a solution to climate change? by Pete Roche).
Nuclear power is dirty
The whole nuclear energy chain, from mining, to transport, enrichment, fission, waste storage and waste disposal creates pollution at every stage. Nuclear reactors generate high-level radioactive waste that will remain lethal for tens of thousands of years and operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants produces huge amounts of low-level waste.
No repository for high-level nuclear waste has been established anywhere in the world, even though the USA has thrown more than R80 million at the problem. According to some estimates it may take another 25 to 40 years for a high-level nuclear waste facility to be in operation in the UK.
The Blacksmith Institute has recently declared Chernobyl the most polluted place on Earth. Twenty years after the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster, the 19-mile exclusion zone around the plant remains uninhabitable. A former soviet uranium plant in Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan, also makes the top 10 list.
Nuclear power is dangerous
Just ask the people who used to live near Chernobyl! The US Department of Energy has estimated that around the globe (because yes, radiation can travel) there were around 40 000 cancer deaths that can be linked to the Chernobyl disaster.
And it isn’t just dangerous when the huge disasters happen. Uranium miners are routinely exposed to substantial doses of radiation, particularly through inhalation of radioactive radon gas derived from uranium ore.
Nuclear power stations are prime targets for terrorist attacks and the civilian atomic energy industry produces highly enriched uranium and plutonium which can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.
The nuclear power industry has blood on its hands!
Critics may consider this point a historical irrelevancy that should not cloud our rational judgment of the “peaceful” uses of atomic energy, but the civilian nuclear industry will forever be linked to the most hideous weapons of mass destruction invented and used by humans.
The connection between atomic bombs and nuclear power plants are, of course, as intimate in South Africa as they are around the world. In the words of George Monbiot:
[…] we will never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we do not also rid it of nuclear power. Every state which has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years – Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran – has done so by manipulating its nuclear power program.
In recent years, the the USA and the UK have made use of depleted uranium ammunition (considered by some as a convenient vehicle to get rid of nuclear waste produced by the atomic energy industry) in the wars in the Balkans and Iraq. These weapons have been connected with horrendous increases in cancers, deaths, birth defects and environmental contamination that are just the latest outrage in a long history of violence and bloodshed.
So there you have it. These are just some reasons to reject nuclear power. There are more, but do you really need them? Say no to atomic energy – for your own sake, for that of your children and for that of our planet!