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Ten Strikes Against Nuclear Power
March 27, 2008
In a sure sign of progress for green energy advocates, all of the candidates left in the race for president at least pay lip service to a renewable energy future.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have openly competed in debates to sound the greenest, and John McCain has been quoted as supporting renewables, even while leaving the door open to question climate change. As McCain told Katie Couric in December: “Suppose … there’s no such thing as climate change, and we adopt green technologies. Then we’ve just left our kids a better world.”
Unfortunately, even with all this talk of a better world, not a single presidential candidate has taken nuclear power off the table, despite its well-known risks, and its inability to mitigate the climate crisis. With the following ten strikes against it, nuclear power should be out:
1) Nuclear waste – The waste from nuclear power plants is toxic for humans and the planet for more than 100,000 years. It's untenable now to secure and store all of the waste from the plants that exist. With nuclear proponents saying we need as many as 3,000 more plants (some say it’s more like 17,00) to scale up to meet the climate challenge, nuclear waste containment is unthinkable.
2) Nuclear proliferation – In discussing the proliferation issue, Al Gore said, "During my eight years in the White House, every nuclear weapons proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor program." Iran and North Korea are reminding us of this every day. We can't develop a domestic nuclear energy program without confronting proliferation in other countries.
3) National Security – Nuclear reactors represent a clear national security risk, and an attractive target for terrorists.
4) Accidents – Forget terrorism for a moment, and remember that accidents – human error or natural disasters – can wreak havoc at a nuclear power plant site. The Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation and resettlement of nearly 400,000 people, with thousands poisoned by radiation.
5) Cancer – There are growing concerns that living near even accident-free nuclear plants increases the risk for childhood leukemia and other cancers. One Texas study found increased cancer rates in north central Texas since a nuclear power plant was established in 1990, and a recent German study found childhood leukemia clusters near several nuclear power sites in Europe.
6) Not enough sites – Nuclear plants must locate near a source of water for cooling, and there aren't enough worldwide locations safe from droughts, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other disasters that could trigger an accident. Over 24 nuclear plants are at risk of shutting down this year because of drought in the Southeast.
7)Not enough uranium – Even if we could find enough sites for a new generation of nuclear plants, we're running out of the uranium necessary to power them. Scientists in both the US and UK have shown that if nuclear power were expanded to provide all the world's electricity, our uranium would be depleted in ten years.
8) Costs – Some types of energy production experience decreasing costs to scale. Like computers and cell phones, when you make more solar panels, costs come down. Nuclear power, however, will experience increasing costs to scale. Due to dwindling sites and uranium resources, each successive new nuclear power plant will see its costs rise.
9) Private sector unwilling to finance – Due to all of the above, the private sector has largely taken a pass on the financial risks of nuclear power, leading the industry to seek taxpayer loan guarantees from Congress instead.
And finally, even if all of the above didn't exist, nuclear power still can't be a climate solution because there is …
10) No time -- We have the next ten years to mount a global effort against climate change. It simply isn't possible to build enough new plants in ten years.
Solar power, wind power, geothermal, and aggressive energy efficiency are climate solutions that are safer, cheaper, faster, more secure, and less wasteful than nuclear power.
With so many strikes against nuclear power, we should challenge our candidates for higher office to remove it from the table as a climate solution, and turn our energies toward the technologies and strategies that can truly make a difference.
Adapted from a speech by Alisa Gravitz, executive director of Co-op America. An expanded version of this editorial can be found at www.greenamerica.org/go/tenstrikes.
Please contact Todd Larsen by email