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Nuclear Energy

Admiral Hyman Rickover - On the hazards of nuclear power. Testimony to Congress (28 January 1982); published in Economics of Defense Policy: Hearing before the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, 97th Cong., 2nd sess., Pt. 1 (1982), testified as follows:

"I'll be philosophical. Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth; that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn't have any life – fish or anything. Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet – and probably in the entire system – reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin... Now when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible... Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has a certain half-life, in some cases for billions of years. I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it... I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation. Then you might ask me why do I have nuclear powered ships. That is a necessary evil. I would sink them all. Have I given you an answer to your question?"

Nuclear energy is neither green (or clean), nor cost effective, nor sustainable, nor any solution to the world's greenhouse gas (GHG) crisis.

Proponents of nuclear energy stress that they believe nuclear power to be a sustainable cost effective energy source that reduces carbon emissions and increases energy security by decreasing dependence on foreign oil. However, nuclear power is expensive, polluting, dangerous, depletable, and the uranium base fuel is foreign sourced. The industry lobby is extremely powerful. In a decade the lobby has spent $645million to influence politicians in state and federal government and $63million in campaign contributions to have proponents elected to office.

  • Expense. In spite of massive taxpayer subsidies, of up to $13billion in loan guarantees underwritten at taxpayer expense voted by the Bush administration, nuclear power is the most expensive source of electrical energy and without subsidies would be prohibitively expensive, both with regard to capital costs and price of electricity to the consumer per kWh. Click here to see an an instructive capital cost review.
  • Polluting. The entire fuel cycle from mining of uranium, enrichment, milling, preparation and disposal of used fuel rods is energy intensive and very high in the release of GHG emissions. Moreover, the two enrichment plants in the United States, each powered by dedicated large coal fired electricity generation facilities, in addition to GHG released 87% of all Chlorofluorocarbon-114 (CFC-114, destroying the ozone layer) emitted in America, equal to 14% of world wide emissions.
  • Dangerous. There is no policy to secure used fuel rods. Irradiated (used) fuel rods are several million times more radio active than when first inserted in a reactor and can kill an unprotected human within minutes. They remain radio active for millennia. With no safe storage like Yucca Mountain, Nevada, on the horizon, the hazard remains in our midst, awaiting terrorism or accident to perpetrate massive releases of radioactivity. In spite of the ban on dumping sealed containers of nuclear waste into the sea, the French government-owned AREVA (previously Cogema) outrageously pumped toxic nuclear waste at a rate of 100 tons a year into the English Channel, such that a plume of radioactivity now extends to the Canadian arctic seas contaminating much Marine life. To read the Congressional Research Service report "Nuclear Waste Disposal: Alternatives to Yucca Mountain " dated February 6, 2009, click CRSreport.
  • Depletable. At current consumption rates, low-cost uranium reserves will become exhausted in about fifty (50) years.
  • Foreign. Almost all (80-90%) U.S. consumed uranium comes from Canada, Australia, Africa or the former Soviet Union.

Climate Change.

Global warming is an undeniable and urgent problem but nuclear energy is not a solution.

Nuclear power cannot rescue the world from climate change. Some two to three thousand reactors would need to be built worldwide, say one a week for the next 40 years. This is not a feasible proposition even for the United States to contemplate for its domestic requirements. It would require exorbitant government (taxpayer) subsidies and stress the declining numbers of nuclear engineers, safety inspectors, and supply of necessary specialized building materials. In addition to the construction of nuclear plants, this huge amount of worldwide nuclear capacity would require 11–22 polluting large fuel enrichment plants, 18 fuel fabrication plants, and 10 more waste disposal sites the size of the now defunct Yucca Mountain proposal.

Nuclear energy is claimed to be the answer to our climate problems since it is clean–burning. However, a life–cycle analysis, which takes into account the energy–intensive processes of mining and enriching the uranium ore, manufacture of fuel rods, constructing and dismantling the nuclear plant, and disposing the hazardous waste, shows that nuclear is definitely not carbon–free. Moreover, emissions from a nuclear plant in the U.S. can range from 16–55 grams of CO2 per kilowatt–hour over the lifetime of the plant. Compared to wind (11–37 grams CO2/kWh) and biomass (29–62 grams CO2/kWh). Nuclear is no cleaner than renewable sources.

Nuclear power plants require a long slow process to permit and build that cannot alleviate global warming in a short enough time period. The nature of climate change demands that we begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions without delay and continue doing so aggressively over the next few decades. NASA scientist James Hansen says that we had a 10–year window before global warming reaches its tipping point and major ecological and societal damage becomes irreversible. Even if a nuclear energy project were given government approval today, it would take at least 10 -15 years for the plant to start delivering electricity. Before that time, emissions would increase from construction and fuel preparation, speeding up the process of global warming.

View additional pages on Nuclear Energy at:

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