Note from the Arch-Druid

by David Brower

The hazards begin with the mining of uranium (the hazard could be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic). They continue in thc concentration of the ore (also c, m, and t), the accumulation or reconstitution of mining wastes and the release of radon daughters (c, m, and t again), the enrichment of nuclear fuel (requiring the burning of quantities of coal and its disagreeable releases), the loading and burning of the fuel in reactors producing radioactive emissions (the industry likes to suggest they are as innocent as mom's apple pie), the grim threat of fuel meltdowns (that could render an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable), the near-misses (Browns Ferry, Three Mile Island), the non-miss (Chernobyl), the storage of spent fuel in reactor-site pools (destruction of which could do in another Pennsylvania), the reprocessing of spent fuel (producing plutonium for more weapons and also producing an inventory of waste like that at LaHague, France, release of which could make Western Europe uninhabitable), transportation of waste on derelict railroad beds (in casks not tested for the severity of stress they could easily receive but not contain, the hazard of ruptured casks (you couldn't drive by an exposed spent nuclear-fuel rod at the highway's edge on a motorcycle fast enough to avoid a lethal dose of radiation), the problem of waste already supposedly disposed of (the still-unexplained Chelyabinsk disaster in the Soviet Union, and in Washington State the Hanford leaks and resultant radioactive plume delivered to the Pacific by the Columbia River and extending from Cape Mendocino in California to the northern end of the Washington coast, or the newly discovered, unmanageable, explosive hydrogen build- up in the tanks of high level liquid waste), the nuclear waste yet to be disposed of (promises of solution deadlines do not solve the problem), the problem of disposing of embrittled, overaged, or otherwise defunct reactors (promises, pro-mises; no solutions), the enormous amount of waste heat (on a planet where the atom's energy was safely stored in the atom instead of being released, further warming an atmosphere that does not need the heat), and the permanent challenge, provided generously and willy-nilly to generation after generation, of minding our waste, sequestering radioactivity from living things, farther into the future than the Neanderthal era extends into our past -- these are the principal problems of the nuclear fuel cycle. You will find them under the industry's rug when they let you look in this Age of Disinformation, not to say Deceit.

We had therefore better avoid the nuclear escape from global warming suggested by the nuclear industry. It could be added that when the world follows Sweden's example and phases out the nuclear power industry, the nuclear weapons industry will have no place to hide. Fortunately, we've escaped still another hazard. We had been promised nuclear energy too cheap to meter. Knowing what damage the industrial nations have done to the Earth with abundant energy they had to pay for, think what could have been done if it had been free! That is now the "promise" nuclear fusion holds for us, if and when.

All these troublesome problems are with us. If they were foreseen, the people who did the foreseeing chose not to let us know. We can assume that they were driven by a real need to beat Germany's effort to split the atom first, that they welcomed the idea of selling electricity as a by-product of plutonium production, that the utilities especially welcomed the subsidy of two hundred billion dollars from taxpayers.

That is an assumption. What we do know is that the consequences were not anticipated -- were not fended off. They offend still.

At Ward Valley, the information campaign tells us that we need the radioactive waste dump for medicinal waste, but the Department of Energy's own statistics tell another story. The nuclear landfill, proposed for an area above an aquifer and too close to the Colorado River, would be built to accommodate nuclear power plant waste. This would be just another subsidy for an industry that would not successfully compete in the national energy free market. We can do better than to place some of the most dangerous substances known in unlined ditches near the water source for millions.