Space Coast Progressive Alliance

The Future of the American Experiment is in Your Hands
Wednesday, 16 March 2011 12:31

Nuclear is not an option.

Written by  Jeremy Phelps
My heart goes out to the people of Japan, and my concern is equally on the impending environmental catastrophe, but I risk accusation of callousness and opportunism to use this terrible event to further point out, why now more than ever, we must force a concerted and immediate change to more a more sustainable way of living, a paradigm shift in the way think about the environment, energy, and the economy and the impacts that our personal actions have on these issues.  A "Green Revolution" if you will. I realize that this issues section is named Energy, but the three issues, Energy, Environment, and Economy are inseparable.  Further, I will illustrate over the coming weeks how those three topics are more than inseparable, they are the driving forces behind all the issues that define the mission of any progressive moment, from Civil and Human rights, to Health Care, and Global Peace. 

The topic of Nuclear power was never discussed at last week's conference, undoubtedly as a result of timing. Perhaps because we haven't seen a major Nuclear incident in recent memory, we have been sold on the idea that Nuclear Power is the Cheaper, Cleaner, Safer alternative to the "dirty" energy producers, the Oil and Coal industries. The powerful earthquake that triggered the massive psunami, which struck the Japanese coast occurred just hours after the conclusion of the conference. Let me be perfectly clear, as if the current situation in Japan, and the historical incidents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island do not speak clear enough.  Nuclear is not a viable "clean option."  Anyone promoting a sustainable energy policy cannot include further advancement or current support of Nuclear power as part of that agenda. Steven Cohen wrote an excellent piece for the environmental issues website, Grist, titled "Just Say No: Nuclear power is complicated, dangerous, and definitely not the answer." on August 8, 2006. That's right 2006, the case against Nuclear is nothing new, not since it's inception in the Manhatten project, not since it's proliferation throughout the 1970's.  I'd say the arguments against Nuclear even today, Five years later are even much stronger, as we have seen renewable energy technologies take leaps ahead of where they were in 2006 six.  Cohen's article lays out several key reasons why we must abandon the idea of Nuclear power as the answer to our ever-growing demand for global energy. ---------------------- 'Just Say No: Nuclear power is complicated, dangerous, and definitely not the answer' by Steven Cohen EXCERPT:

"Let's begin with dangerous, setting aside the obvious problems raised by Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. In the past few years, we have seen the horror that suicide bombers set loose in restaurants from Tel Aviv to Baghdad, and the danger of jets flying into skyscrapers. Do we really want to see what happens if a terrorist attacks a nuclear power plant? Are we so arrogant as to believe that these facilities are not already tempting, and vulnerable, targets? Let's move on to complicated. The primary waste product of nuclear power, spent fuel rods, remains toxic for thousands of years. We do not yet know how to detoxify these waste products and, despite 20-some years of trying, we have not yet been able to establish a long-term repository anywhere in the United States… … If the problem of detoxifying waste is beyond current technology -- which is why we need to store it for thousands of years -- what about the technology of power generation? The MIT study acknowledges that no power plant can be made risk-free. In reality, all technology carries risks. When we drive on an interstate highway, we face the risk of a crash. We accept the risk because it is relatively low, and because the effect of the risk is localized. A mistake in a nuclear power plant, however, can cause long-standing, widespread damage to people and ecosystems. Just ask the people who survived Chernobyl. The risk may be low, but the potential impact is high. Money is not the issue. We have the resources to build a nuclear-waste storage facility -- under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, customers of nuclear-generated electricity have been paying a $0.001 per kilowatt-hour fee on their electric bills since 1983. Utilities pass the money into an account that has generated $24 billion over the years. Despite assurances that the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada will last longer than the waste will be toxic, serious failings in storage technology and the risks of transportation have resulted in widespread opposition. Today, our nuclear waste goes into "spent fuel pools" at nuclear power plants like the one at Indian Point, just 35 miles north of New York City.
That leads to the politics. No one wants to host the nuclear-waste repository. No one wants a nuclear power plant next door. This is not an engineering or economic issue, but one of politics. In an increasingly crowded and interdependent world, people have grown more sensitive about questions of land-use development. Environmental justice has also reached the political stage, because the rich are better able to defend themselves against environmental insults than the poor. In the United States, local politics in many places has become the politics of land use and development. If we can't site Wal-Marts without a lengthy battle, why does anyone seriously think that we will be able to site the hundreds of new nuclear power plants [and waste disposal sites] that may be necessary to meet our energy needs without increasing greenhouse-gas emissions?

Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons are inextricably linked.

So why spend so much time and effort on systems that come which such inherent risks as opposed to investment and development of truly cleaner, safer renewable sources such as Solar, Wind, Biofuels, Hydro-, Tidal, and geothermal power.  Moreover, why continue this vastly exponential consumption of energy. More than simply being able to create enough power to feed our fuel needs, we need to be putting serious effort into reducing our energy needs, in our homes, our business, and in how we go about our personal transportation.

 Cohen's article although quite succinct and very informed, just barely touches on another critical aspect of Nuclear power.  That is the issue of Global Nuclear Arms proliferation.  I can site a hundred reports that show the link between Commercial Nuclear power generation to the proliferation, that is the spread of Nuclear Arms.

 The undeniable fact is this;

"A connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons exists because both require fissile materials. Some of the technology that can be used to produce or purify a fissile material for a nuclear power plant could also be applied to producing nuclear weapons. There are three main fissile materials that are used in nuclear reactions:"

Although this doesn't necessarily mean that would happen, it is certainly a risk, I believe far too great too take. Governments, namely our own have used the threat of Weapons of Mass destruction as basis for launching costly wars.  If the threat of such widespread destruction is so great as to warrant over a trillion dollars spent and countless lost lives on a war to stop the use of the such weapons, doesn't it make sense that that we need to eliminate the means to produce such weapons altogether.  How do these intangible costs factor in the cheaper, cleaner, safer line that we have been feed about Nuclear power, since the dawn of the Atomic age.

"If one were to imagine for a moment that commercial nuclear power no longer existed, it would be obvious that the only use a country would then have for its uranium mining, milling, fuel fabrication and reactors would be to produce nuclear weapons. But because commercial nuclear power does exist, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether a country is using its reactors for research, or for weapons production. It is precisely this ambiguity which makes the proliferation of nuclear weapons from so-called "peaceful research" a certainty, and the proliferation of commercial nuclear reactors worldwide a Trojan Horse for nuclear weapons production. "

10 Myths about Nuclear Power

Michael Rose, Documentary filmmaker and Huffington Post contributor does another excellent job at covering most of the bases with his March 15 piece "Too Cheap to Meter: The Top 10 Myths of Nuclear Power."  He thoroughly debunks the top ten myth's often used to tout Nuclear as a viable energy alternative. EXCERPT:

"Nuclear power was sold in the United States as being "Too cheap to meter." This miracle power source that harnessed the might of the atom to light American homes and power their TVs was seen as a way to put a happy face on the horrors visited upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lewis Strauss who chaired the Atomic Energy Commission in 1954, the predecessor of today's Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC), spoke of an era when "atomic furnaces" from fission and fusion reactors would provide clean, safe, reliable, abundant and cheap power for generations to come. It hasn't been the panacea he foretold. In fact, it's been a train wreck of accidents, cost overruns, nuclear weapons proliferation and an ever-growing waste problem that is always on the verge of being solved. This hasn't stopped the nuclear power industry from promoting its product as the safe, clean alternative to coal for a green future. Wrapping nukes in a green cloak and declaring their oneness with those concerned with climate change has helped to sway public opinion. The banks are still skeptical but the industry, like their friends on Wall Street, has turned to the government for support. The Bush and Obama administrations have kept the light on for nuclear power with loan guarantees, federal dollars for research and foreign policy initiatives like the treaty with India that forgave its transforming a research reactor into a bomb factory. The impact on the industry of the Japanese reactors destruction as a result of the earthquake and tsunami may reverse the tide of support built by the nuclear industry. But trust me, they won't give up. They'll try to spin the disaster as proof that nuclear power is still safe and that if anything can be learned it's that we need newer nukes, with more safety features, not alternatives. So, to arm the public with some mental shielding from the thought rays likely to be beamed by the misconstruers of fact and swayers of emotion here are 10 myths of nuclear power you need to know.

Myth #1: Nuclear power is safe. The experience at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, the Russian reactor at Chernobyl and the meltdown at Three Mile Island in the United States, the nuclear Trifecta, are the most well known nuclear accidents but there have been thousands of accidents and near misses that could have led to a disaster. The biggest fear, in all of these cases, stems from the fact that a nuclear power plant has about as much radioactivity inside it as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. There is more sitting in the adjacent pools where the used nuclear fuel rods are stored. In Japan, we've seen what happens when there isn't enough coolant to cover the fuel rods. The rods start melting and, in a worst case scenario, the China Syndrome, the core melts down and breeches the containment facility. The heat build up can stop short of a China Syndrome but can get hot enough to melt the metal around the fuel rods and create a reaction that produces hydrogen gas that triggers an explosion. Which is what happened in Japan. Having redundant safety measures, a plan B, C and D, doesn't mean they can't all fail. "The only safe nuclear reactor is 93-million miles away, the sun," said Daniel Hirsch, president of Bridge the Gap, a nuclear policy organization.

Myth #2 Nuclear power will help us kick our addiction to foreign oil.

Myth #3: Without nuclear reactors, the U.S. cannot hope to combat climate change.

Myth #4: The U.S. is in the midst of a nuclear renaissance.

Myth #5: Without new nuclear reactors, we won't have enough power in the United States.

Myth #6: Why not fund nuclear power just to make sure we do have enough power since there's practically no risk of losing any money with government loan guarantees?

Myth #7: The nuclear industry's past problems were caused by overzealous environmentalists, regulators and the public's fear after Three Mile Island.

Myth #8: Nuclear power will be an important source for jobs and economic development.

Myth #9: France has found solutions to all of nuclear power's problems.

Myth #10: The growth of civilian nuclear power won't promote the spread of nuclear weapons, or as it's called, proliferation.
We need to stop looking at nuclear power and concentrate on real clean energy sources like wind and solar. But these aren't really fun challenges for scientists. Building a solar collector or an improved windmill is boring compared to unleashing the power of the atom. Especially, dabbling in that chimera -- the real Holy Grail -- fusion power. Can't beat that for a fun brain twister, one that's sucked up countless billions of federal research dollars but is still "the power of the future." While scientists like to do what's hard, exotic and new, people want and need what's simple, effective, reliable and affordable. To paraphrase President Eisenhower's speech about the Military Industrial Complex, every dollar we spend on nuclear power is stolen from developing real solutions to our energy needs. Nuclear power, once touted as "too cheap to meter" is really too expensive and dangerous to use."


Enormous Taxpayer Burden
We have still yet to hit another deeply troubling aspect of Nuclear Power.  That is the enormous burden to tax payers that is required to make Nuclear viable.  In February, Earth Track released a detailed and comprehensive report on the cost of Nuclear power to U.S. taxpayers.  This report, of course, only focuses on benefits to the Nuclear industry in the forms of subsidies and loan guarantees for construction, operating expenses, loan guarantees, and costs directly related.  It does not take in consideration the externalities such as the cost of contamination mitigation, "defense" spending against nuclear arms and the subsequent human life costs of the wars, or CO2 emissions mitigation from mining and fuel transportation, to name a few. EXCERPT:
"Conspicuously absent from industry press releases and briefing memos touting nuclear power's potential as a solution to global warming is any mention of the industry's long and expensive history of taxpayer subsidies and excessive charges to utility ratepayers. These subsidies not only enabled the nation's existing reactors to be built in the first place, but have also supported their operation for decades. This report (Full Report or Executive Summary) catalogues in one place and for the first time the full range of subsidies that benefit the nuclear power sector. The findings are striking: since its inception more than 50 years ago, the nuclear power industry has benefited—and continues to benefit—from a vast array of preferential government subsidies. Indeed, as the report shows, subsidies to the nuclear fuel cycle have often exceeded the value of the power produced. This means that buying power on the open market and giving it away for free would have been less costly than subsidizing the construction and operation of nuclear power plants. Subsidies to new reactors are on a similar path."

The website Beyond Nuclear also takes on all the issues of Nuclear Power including taxpayer backed Subsidies and Loan Guarantees.

"New reactor construction is so expensive and unpredictable that no U.S. utility is willing to take the risk without the backing of federal loan guarantees, potentially in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Beyond Nuclear and others fight to prevent the mature nuclear industry from seizing any such subsidies which are better spent on true climate solutions such as renewable energy and energy efficiency programs."

Michael Mariotte, Executive Director, Nuclear Information and Resource Service in his letter to Congress call on citizens to:

"Tell Congress not only must it oppose new taxpayer subsidies for new reactor construction, but Congress must cut the existing program to zero!... …The existing Department of Energy loan "guarantee" program has $10.2 Billion in unspent money for new reactor construction and another $2 Billion for uranium enrichment plants. Why should Congress be cutting programs like Planned Parenthood, legal services for the poor, public broadcasting, college loans, and dozens of other programs when that money is sitting there and should never be used anyway?

"We do not support construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power." http://org2.democracyinaction.


Even if one were to follow the most conservative of the numbers the costs to U.S. taxpayers far exceeds $10 Billion annually.  Construction costs of new reactors are reported to be anywhere from $6 -  $12 Billion each. I am sure it is a safe bet to say that many other industrialized are not too far behind and possibly even ahead of this number.  If this money were spent on developing truly "Green" energy technology and infrastructure we could address many problems facing not only our nation but the world. Beyond Nuclear and the Nuclear Information Resource Service are great starting pointse to see just how connected Nuclear Power is to many of the topics that are key to any progressive movement.
Nuclear Information Resource Service ---------------------- Beyond Nuclear

According to Greenpeace, in November 2000 the world recognized nuclear power as a dirty, dangerous and unnecessary technology by refusing to give it greenhouse gas credits during the UN Climate Change talks in The Hague. Nuclear power was dealt a further blow when a UN Sustainable Development Conference refused to label nuclear a sustainable technology in April 2001.

There is undeniable growing global demand for energy: Fact.  As progressives we must advocate a monumental shift to clean, renewable energy. Nuclear has never been and can never be considered in this movement.  It is simply too expensive, too dangerous, and too dirty. I beg pardon for going a bit off track, but I felt this needed to be addressed. In my upcoming, now slightly delayed report on the Sustainability conference I will highlight many of the areas that are showing strong and promising developments in order to address our energy needs in truly cleaner, cheaper, safer ways. -Jeremy  

Last modified on Thursday, 17 March 2011 21:45
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