5 Myths of Nuclear Energy

Child tested for radiation in Japan

Myth 1. That nuclear energy is safe.

OK, lets forget that Chernobyl ever happened. Pretend that we didn’t know about the enormous environmental impacts of a nuclear reactor gone wrong. That the 30 km “Exclusion Zone” around Chernobyl will not be habitable for a century or more.

Current events in Japan are showing us that earthquakes and other natural disasters are a constant possible threat in the day-to-day operations of a nuclear plant. It’s just folly to believe that all possible situations can be covered by design, especially when the stakes are so high if they fail.

Despite evidence of public relations efforts where the Japanese nuclear disasters are conveyed to be one of a kind, something that “cannot possibly happen in the United States” and that “newer designs will be made safer”, the industry has a long track record of lying about the safety records of nuclear power and the potential hazards that are possible.

Another consideration is that if industry considers nuclear power so safe, why won’t the industry accept full financial responsibility in case of a large scale accident? The nuclear industry has an exclusion of responsibility for total damages written into law. First passed in 1957 , the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries act governs the maximum liability for all nuclear facilities constructed in the United States. The purpose of the Act is to indemnify the nuclear industry against full liability arising from nuclear incidents.

The first approximately $12.6 billion of damages will be payed out from an industry insurance pool but after that the US taxpayer pays the rest.  How far do you suppose 12.6 billion dollars would go in paying damages from a nuclear reactor meltdown?

Cartoon courtesy of Clay Bennett,Washington Post Writers Group.

Myth 2. Nuclear energy can solve global warming.

Even if nuclear power were really carbon-free, in order to play a significant role against global warming, 24 new plants per year would need to be brought online safely for the next 40 years (approximately 960 new plants).  In addition, at least 10 new storage facilities the size of Yucca Mountain (which has been shut down, see below) would have to be brought online.  This is a near impossibility given the high costs of commissioning a plant safely and the immense technological challenges associated with long-term waste storage. Compromising current safety standards would be necessary (MIT).

If you go on the NEI website, you will read that a nuclear power plant produces 0 carbon emissions.  It is true that zero CO2 are emitted at the plant, but what about the construction of the plant, the sourcing of uranium, and the transportation and long-term storage of its waste?  If you factor these energy expenditures into the equation including storage costs modestly estimated through 2070, a typical 1500 megawatt plant emits approximately 400g of CO2 per kWh, making it roughly equivalent to a natural gas plant (Oxford Research Group).

Myth 3. Nuclear waste is a manageable problem.

Currently nuclear waste is stored in 126 locations across the United States, including many unsecured nuclear power plants which are now forced to temporarily contain their waste in “dry casks,” or large metal tubes that encase the highly radioactive spent fuel in a layer of inert gas.  Many of these facilities are far beyond capacity so in 1978 plants were promised a safe and secure storage facility by 1998.

The Yucca Mountain Deep Storage Facility was beset with problems from the start such as discovering a nearby fault line and several engineering delays. Starting off as one of the most extraordinary engineering feats undertaken in postwar America, it now lies unused inside a mountain before receiving even a single barrel of spent fuel.

It was canceled by eliminating federal funding for the project after spending about $9 billion on designing and completing the first phase of 5 mile long U-shaped concrete tunnel and chambers designed to keep waste safe for at least a million years. Despite the cancellation of the storage site,  President Obama is still supporting the plan for new nuclear plants to be built.

Myth 4. Nuclear energy is affordable.

It’s an astounding feat that the nuclear industry has somehow been able to pass the burden of waste storage onto taxpayers, considering those costs are so enormous.  But even if you do factor out these waste costs, the economics of nuclear still do not add up.  A typical plant is usually estimated at $4 billion per plant, or $30 per mWh (roughly equivalent to Coal).  Many point to Europe for examples of cost-effective nuclear implementation, but if you look at actual numbers a plant (like Finland’s new EPR) can cost up to $6.5 billion to safely bring online.  And then there are the annual desalting procedures, in which the plant continues to operate at great costs without producing energy.

It’s thus not surprising that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) stated that US loan guarantees of nuclear power have a 50% chance of defaulting.  Banking institutions, including Goldman Sachs, have told the DOE that private capital would not be available for nuclear investment unless US taxpayers backed 100% of debt incurred.  Clearly this is  not a sound business proposition (via Greenpeace).

Myth 5. Nuclear energy won’t affect our national security.

According to an MIT study, just 1 percent of global uranium enrichment capacity can produce 200 nuclear weapons per year. For example, North Korea received all of its depleted uranium from commercial nuclear power plants.  It’s impossible to imagine that expanded nuclear energy production would not result in the expanded proliferation of nuclear weapons. In addition, the Dept. of Homeland Security has acknowledged that nuclear power plants are themselves prime terrorist targets and that 911 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had originally planned to fly a plane into a nuclear facility in New Jersey.

The Congressional Research Service has shown that current construction standards are not in any way designed to withstand an airline attack.  In recent simulations, terrorists “reached and simulated destruction of safety systems that in real attacks could have caused severe core damage, meltdown and catastrophic radioactive releases.”

So there you have it. Not safe, misrepresented solution to global warming, too expensive, waste disposal problems, vulnerable to terrorist attacks. When you add this to the current situation in Japan, is Nuclear energy really a viable solution?


Beyond Nuclear

Greenpeace nuclear campaign

Anti-Nuclear from an Australian prospective Important because of the effects of uranium mining on indigenous people in Australia


About Krell

I used to have superpowers… but a therapist took them away.
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6 Responses to 5 Myths of Nuclear Energy

  1. Gwendolyn H. Barry says:

    Cheers to Krell… .a very important piece … I’m spreading it around. People NEED to be reading this. Well done David.

    • Krell says:

      It’s a brief analysis to give the reader a taste of the concerns. There are a lot more detailed reports and write-ups out there for the concerned reader. My wish is for the reader to get out and do the research. Dig it out, don’t just accept the press junkets handed out by the Nuclear Industry. They have millions at stake so naturally they are going to minimize the dangers. Same goes for most of the government agencies. Their job is to promote the industry not be a watchdog. Make up their own mind!!

  2. oso says:

    Indian Country Today has a writeup, much of it dealing w/Yucca Mountain. Great info, great post.


  3. bbarb81018 says:

    There is enough information here to confirm our worst fears about nuclear energy. We need to explore alternative sources. I just now heard the Japanese people are concerned about radiation that has been found in their food and milk supply. This is just the immediate concern! What will be the concerns for future generations?

  4. I heart nukes, but I will read this. Later!

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