Nuclear energy’s dirty secrets

Nuclear energy’s dirty secrets

Nuclear energy’s dirty secrets
The Leader-Post
Published: Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It’s astonishing that the Canadian Nuclear Association is allowed to falsely advertise nuclear energy as “clean.” Pro-nukes want us to believe nuclear energy, in contrast to coal, doesn’t produce greenhouse gases (GHGs).

This is nonsense. From mining to milling to enrichment, from reactor construction to decommissioning, nuclear uses vast amounts of fossil fuels. Expansion of nuclear power would involve mining lower-grade ore; this would require even more fossil fuels.

And consider this: all Saskatchewan uranium exported to its biggest customer — the U.S. — is enriched by two dirty coal plants in Kentucky.
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That nuclear energy is being promoted for the production of Alberta’s heavy oil should put to rest the nonsensical view it is a magic bullet for solving global warming.

And there is nothing “clean” about the radiation — of which there is no safe level — that nuclear spreads, from uranium tailings to reactor wastes. Plutonium remains toxic for 800 generations.

Then, there is the undeniable weapons connection. Depleted uranium from enriched Saskatchewan uranium is raw material for the U.S. military. DU bullets have been used in several war zones since 1991 and are responsible for escalating birth deformities and childhood cancers in Iraq.

Some business leaders are ignoring all this for short-term economic benefits. “Out of sight, out of mind” for the bottom line. Let’s not let them forget that uranium is a non-renewable resource, and will run out not long after oil. So we might as well make the full transition to sustainable energy right now without creating toxic wastes for our children’s children. That’s the right thing to do!

What about the economics? Besides not being clean, nuclear is not cheap. Several studies (e.g., New Scientist) found the true costs of nuclear are underestimated by a factor of three. If the huge subsidies going to nuclear were removed, the cost of electricity from nuclear plants would rise 300 per cent.

To reduce GHGs to avert cataclysmic climate change, we need to quickly shift to conservation and no-or-low-carbon energy sources. This means using all the renewables — wind, solar, tidal, etc. Even without a level playing field, wind and co-generation (using waste heat for electricity) are already the least-cost options to coal.

We must stop nuclear from robbing the scarce capital needed to make the conversion to renewables. Building a uranium refinery here is not the responsible thing to do. If Saskatchewan’s NDP government and opposition parties got their heads out of the sand and stopped being blinded by the quick buck, we could play a positive role in the necessary conversion to sustainable energy.

It seems the broader population must act to bring this about.

Jim Harding

Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and author of the forthcoming book Canada’s Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan Uranium and the Global Nuclear System.

Fort Qu’Appelle

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007

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