10 Reasons why nukes don’t answer our most compelling environmental problem
Proponents of nuclear energy are opportunistically attempting to take advantage of the global warming issue to resurrect a dying industry that is expensive and dangerous. Here, I summarize the reasons why nuclear energy is not the solution to global warming. In a subsequent series of articles, I will elaborate further on each of the reasons presented here.
Nuclear energy is expensive, and cannot exist without substantial government subsidies. And without heavy government subsidies, nuclear energy does not attract investors. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute has said he would like government to get out of the energy subsidy business altogether, exactly because subsidies attract investments to energy sectors where they would not have otherwise gone. Besides being heavily subsidized, nuclear represents even greater expense to taxpayers. In the “unlikely” event of a nuclear accident, taxpayers will foot the bill of a clean-up, not industry - and this is not to mention personal loss of life and property.
Despite proponents’ claims that nuclear is safe, it is not. Japan recently experience an earthquake that nearly resulted in a nuclear disaster. Nuclear proponents claim that the disaster was averted by design, but the reaction of Japanese authorities suggest something very different. Good luck played more of a role than good design. And in addition to the Japanese accident, Germany also recently experienced two nuclear accidents. The nuclear plants cannot obtain liability insurance for potential accidents, and because of that, a Republican congress capped legal liability for nuclear plants. Ergo: taxpayers foot the bill for clean-up in the “unlikely” event of a nuclear accident.
The problem of nuclear waste is far from resolved. The touted plan is to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a sparsely populated region of Nevada. Yucca Mountain is supposed to be a safe depository for nuclear waste, but there is evidence that scientific documents certifying its soundness for storage were forged. Additionally, Yucca Mountain lies within an active seismic region, and although there may not be an immediate earthquake risk, nuclear waste remains toxic for tens of thousands of years. It might also be noted that the citizens of Nevada don’t want the nuclear waste stored in their state. I can’t blame them for that. But the rest of us aren’t completely off the hook either. That waste has to be transported, and it will be transported through many other states before reaching Yucca Mountain. How many of us are comfortable with the thought of nuclear waste being transported through our communities?
Nuclear plants are large, centralized power producers, which present security risks, continue to put energy in the hands of a few special interests, and continue to make energy a pawn of lobbyists and politicians’ pet pork projects. Nuclear energy, in this respect, seems more about control of a vital resource than addressing the issue of global warming.
Nuclear energy is a proliferation and foreign relations risk. If it were not so, then the U.S. would have no difficulty at all with Iran building nuclear power plants. And how can the U.S. legitimately deny Iranian production of nuclear energy while at the same time proposing to double the number of nuclear plants in this country? But even assuming that nuclear proliferation is not an issue due to stalwart security services (a pipedream in itself), just consider the cost of such security services - more expense to taxpayers.
Nuclear energy is not carbon neutral, as proponents like to claim it is. Both the construction of nuclear power plants and the mining of uranium are carbon intensive.
Nuclear plants take a long time to build, and so cannot be considered a “readily available” energy source, as proponents like to claim. Proponents claim that the reason nuclear plants take so long to build is that regulations and licensing processes are unduly burdensome. But do we really want a deregulated nuclear industry? History shows that while deregulation has many positive economic aspects, it also produces corporations like Enron. Do we want an Enron style corporation in nuclear energy arena that has no room for error?
The number of nuclear plants required to neutralize our current CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels is enormous. It is estimated that the U.S. would have to double the number of nuclear plants currently operating, not to mention replacing existing plants that are deteriorating due to age. The lifespan of a nuclear power plant is around 30 years. Worldwide, it is estimated that as many as 1000 additional nuclear power plants would be needed to displace fossil fuels. How many of these plants throughout the world are going to be subject to safety standards, such as in the U.S.?
There may not even be sufficient uranium supply to fuel the number of nuclear power plants that would be needed to neutralize enough CO2 to make a difference. And uranium supplies are distributed throughout the world, mostly in (politically safe) industrial countries, but some in unstable regions, such as Niger.
Finally, nuclear energy proponents will tell you that nuclear plants are virtually accident free, but the fact is that there are more accidents in nuclear plants than ever reach the media. Articles about the recent accidents in Japan and Germany indicate that industry representatives are not always forthcoming about such accidents, thereby calling into question both the claims of safety, and the trustworthiness of nuclear energy proponents.