Tuesday, May 22, 2007It’s Still Nuclear Power
Category: News and Politics
It’s Still Nuclear Power
By John Rosenthal
I thought the NRA’s support for suspected terrorists continuing to be able to legally buy guns took the “truth is stranger than fiction” prize until I read some supposed environmentalists support reviving commercial nuclear plants as an alternative to carbon (vs. radioactive waste) producing fossil fuel facilities. Now if that isn’t a shortsighted and false choice I don’t know what is.
The only factors that haven’t changed in the last 20 years since the environmentally disastrous, inefficient and costly nuclear power plant expansion program was abandoned is that there’s still no long-term solution to nuclear waste storage. On 9/11, al Qaeda (al CIAda) terrorists flew past 12 operating nuclear plants proving that we’re just as vulnerable to nuclear terrorist attack than we previously thought.
It’s been 60 years since the highly secretive Manhattan Project developed nuclear power to create enriched uranium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. After we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan, President Eisenhower dreamed up the “Peaceful Atom” Program. In addition to making enriched uranium for bombs, nuclear power is just a fancy way to boil water in order to generate electricity. The nuclear fuel cycle theory goes: build Light Water Reactors fueled by enriched uranium and reprocess the highly radioactive plutonium waste by-product into fuel for the next generation of Breeder Reactors. These plutonium-fueled plants were thought to be the alchemists dream because the Breeder’s by-product or waste is more plutonium, thereby making more fuel than it uses. Sounds great except reprocessing plants were shut down by President Reagan because they were too dangerous and didn’t work, the only Breeder Reactor to ever operate was the Enrico Fermi Plant which was shut down when it began melting down nearly forcing the evacuation of Detroit Michigan, a millionth of a gram of plutonium causes cancer in laboratory animals, it explodes when it comes in contact with air or water and 10 pounds is enough to make a large nuclear weapon. Throughout the entire nuclear fuel cycle from mining uranium to high level nuclear waste storage at every U.S. nuclear plant, to decommissioning plants after 30 years of operation because they’re too radioactive for workers to operate, large quantities of high- and low-level nuclear waste are generated with devastating environmental and public health consequences and no safe long term solution.
The idea behind the Peaceful Atom was to convert the nuclear weapons program into commercial power plants. In 1957, because the U.S. government’s own studies reported that a Maximum Credible Accident at a commercial nuclear plant could result in over $7 billion in damage and render an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable, the private utility industry refused to embrace nuclear power. As a result Congress enacted the Price Anderson Act which holds the nuclear industry harmless in case of a nuclear power plant accident. In fact you can find the small “Nuclear Exclusion Clause” at the bottom of any insurance policy you own or will ever buy. If nuclear power is so safe and clean why does the industry continue to require limits on liability? It’s interesting that the only other industry that I know of that benefits from such a Congressional act protecting it from liability is the gun industry. Granted 30-40,000 Americans die every year from guns but that’s a fraction of the number of Americans that could die from a large-scale nuclear accident or terrorist event with a conventional weapon (or plane) strategically placed. Remember on Sept. 11, 2001 the al Qaeda terrorists flew past 12 operating nuclear power plants between Boston, New York and Washington DC. They could have easily turned 9/11 into a nuclear catastrophe. They didn’t…this time.
To make matters even worse and in classic “do as I say not as I do” fashion, the U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war. Yet we insist that Iran not develop commercial nuclear technology for fear that they to will make, proliferate and maybe even use nuclear weapons. Still we boast that 17 percent percent of our exports last year were nuclear technology related. What is the U.S. government thinking and where is the public outcry? What could be more destructive to the environment and civilization than a large-scale nuclear accident or terrorist attack with a conventional weapon (or airplane) at one of the 100 nuclear plants around the country? These plants are all located on water sources and many within close proximity of major cities that couldn’t be evacuated in time, no matter how good a plan looks on paper. And at what risk? To avoid spending money on renewable energy, conservation and even cleaner coal while we transition from fossil fuels? Nuclear is the most dangerous alternative for boiling water and generating electricity and there are far better alternatives for energy production.