No Nuclear Power! A Response to NY Times’s “Using Nuclear Energy”

On Feb. 21, 2012, the NY Times invited readers to respond via email to an article called Using Nuclear Energy by retired nuclear scientist Zvi Doran. The article began by citing the recent approval of licensing for two new nuclear power plants by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and then asked and answered two questions:

“Do we need nuclear power? Can we build safe nuclear plants? The answer to both is yes!”

I submitted the following response to the article:

 No Nuclear Power!

The quick response is that we’ve heard it all before. As a young boy in late 1950s, I watched one television show after another that told us how nuclear energy was the key to a glorious future for mankind, and it was perfectly safe because scientists had thought of every possible contingency. Nuclear energy would be “too cheap to meter,” and nothing could go wrong.

We’ve seen how that turned out.

Today, nuclear proponents are fond of saying that there have been “only” three major nuclear accidents in the past 43 years (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima), so nuclear power has a great safety record. However, there are only 400 nuclear power plants worldwide, so, statistically, major nuclear accidents are quite frequent — without even counting the many recorded near misses that could have turned into meltdowns.

If we compare nuclear power to another high-tech industry, commercial air service, we see that between 2000 and 2011 there were over 18 million flights per year, but an average of just 18 serious accidents per year. No nuclear power companies have a comparable record.

Of course Mr. Doran’s article now tells us that “…nuclear plants must be built with the highest regard to safety.” And that, “Fukushima could not happen in these [newly designed nuclear] plants.” Nor, according to the experts, could Fukushima have happened at Fukushima — until it happened. What will be the next series of events that “could not happen?”

The boilerplate argument from the nuclear industry that future demands for clean energy cannot be met by renewables is simply untrue. Enough sunlight strikes the earth in one hour to power all of human civilization for more than a year, and the sun’s energy can be captured, stored and distributed economically with existing technology. It is special-interest politics, not technology, that prevents us from making the transition to renewable energy.

Also, the projected need for growth in the energy sector assumes a business-as-usual scenario, and generally ignores the value of energy conservation. But the 2009 McKinsey Report and similar studies of energy efficiency establish that, in the U.S. alone, public and private investments of $520 billion in efficiency measures can, by 2025, reduce our energy use by 23 percent, save $1.2 trillion and create tens of thousands of jobs. Let’s make that investment before investing in more energy to be squandered by our profligate lifestyles.

Last but far, far from least is the inherently unsolvable problem of nuclear waste. As things stand now, most of the nuclear waste that’s strewn around the country in pools of water and old barrels will be hot and dangerous for at least a couple of thousand years. In the best case scenario, every ounce of that spent fuel will be reprocessed so it is dangerous for “only” 300-500 years.

Isn’t it presumptuous of us to assume that against all odds society will have the means and knowledge to protect itself from the ticking time bombs of nuclear waste repositories for three, or perhaps thirty centuries? Talk about kicking the (nuclear waste) can down the road.

But there is nothing new in this nuclear hubris. We’ve heard it it all before.


Relevant Reading:

Buy books and help Ecotecture! If you liked this article and want to learn more, we invite you to buy books through the links below — we earn a small commission on each purchase you make, without raising your cost one cent. We’ll use that commission to expand our efforts to empower you to solve environmental problems.

Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know, Charles Ferguson  0199759464
Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, Helen Caldicott
The Road to Yucca Mountain, J. Samuel Walker
Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste, Allison MacFarlane
Yucca Mountain Dirty Bomb (Fiction), Wendell Duffield
Atomic Harvest: Hanford, and the Lethal Toll of America’s Nuclear Arsenal, Michael D’antonio
Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age, Jacob Hamblin

Comments are welcome and generally will be posted if they are on topic and inoffensive. However, Ecotecture does not post comments to the effect that global warming is a hoax. Read our position on global warming here.

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