The Top 10 Reasons We Don't Need More Nukes
by Alisa Gravitz
CommonDreams.org: March 1, 2009
Many of President Barack Obama's domestic priorities seem intractably stuck
in partisan gridlock, but one of his recent State of the Union proposals
appears to be moving ahead quickly: taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for
so-called "safe, clean, nuclear power plants."
The Energy Department has already announced a new $8.3 billion loan
guarantee for new nuclear plants in Georgia, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu
is using Facebook to explain why the administration believes nukes are
"No single technology can provide all of the answers," Chu says. "We need
nuclear power as part of a comprehensive solution."
No way. While it's certainly true that our energy needs require a diversity
of solutions, nuclear power shouldn't be in the mix. Solar, wind, and
geothermal power, combined with energy efficiency, can overcome our reliance
on fossil fuels, provide energy security, and mitigate the climate crisis.
Here are the top 10 reasons why we shouldn't build any more nuclear
1. Nuclear waste -- The waste from nuclear power plants will be toxic for
humans for more than 100,000 years. It's untenable now to secure and store
all of the waste from the plants that exist. To scale up to 2,500 or 3,000,
let alone 17,000 plants is unthinkable.
Nuclear proponents hope that the next generation of nuclear plants will
generate much less waste, but this technology is not yet fully developed or
proven. Even if new technology eventually can successful reduce the waste
involved, the waste that remains will still be toxic for 100,000 years.
There will be less per plant, perhaps, but likely more overall, should
nuclear power scale up to 2,500, 3,000 or 17,000 plants. No community
should have to accept nuclear waste site, or even accept the risks of
nuclear waste being transported through on route to its final destination.
The waste problem alone should take nuclear power off the table.
The proposed solution a national nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca
Mountain is overbudget and won't provide a safe solution either. The people
of Nevada don't want that nuclear waste facility there. Also, we would need
to transfer the waste to this facility from plants around the country and
drive it there - which puts communities across the country at risk.
2. Nuclear proliferation - In discussing the nuclear proliferation issue, Al
Gore said, "During my 8 years in the White House, every nuclear weapons
proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor
program." Iran and North Korea are reminding us of this every day. We
can't develop a domestic nuclear energy program without confronting
proliferation in other countries.
Here too, nuclear power proponents hope that the reduction of nuclear waste
will reduce the risk of proliferation from any given plant, but again, the
technology is not there yet. If we want to be serious about stopping
proliferation in the rest of the world, we need to get serious here at home,
and not push the next generation of nuclear proliferation forward as an
answer to climate change. There is simply no way to guarantee that nuclear
materials will not fall into the wrong hands
3. National Security - Nuclear reactors represent a clear national security
risk, and an attractive target for terrorists. In researching the security
around nuclear power plants, Robert Kennedy, Jr. found that there are at
least eight relatively easy ways to cause a major meltdown at a nuclear
What's more, Kennedy has sailed boats right into the Indian Point Nuclear
Power Plant on the Hudson River outside of New York City not just once but
twice, to point out the lack of security around nuclear plants. The
unfortunate fact is that our nuclear power plants remain unsecured, without
adequate evacuation plans in the case of an emergency. Remember the
government response to Hurricane Katrina, and cross that with a Chernobyl-
style disaster to begin to imagine what a terrorist attack at a nuclear
power plant might be like.
4. Accidents - Forget terrorism for a moment, and remember that mere
accidents - human error or natural disasters - can wreak just as much havoc
at a nuclear power plant site. The Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation
and resettlement of nearly 400,000 people, with thousands poisoned by
Here in the US, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 triggered
a clean-up effort that ultimately lasted for nearly 15 years, and topped
more than one billion dollars in cost. The cost of cleaning up after one of
these disasters is simply too great, in both dollars and human cost - and if
we were to scale up to 17,000 plants, is it reasonable to imagine that not
one of them would ever have a single meltdown? Many nuclear plants are
located close to major population centers. For example, there's a plant
just up the Hudson from New York City. If there was an accident, evacuation
would be impossible.
5. Cancer -- There are growing concerns that living near nuclear plants
increases the risk for childhood leukemia and other forms of cancer - even
when a plant has an accident-free track record. One Texas study found
increased cancer rates in north central Texas since the Comanche Peak
nuclear power plant was established in 1990, and a recent German study found
childhood leukemia clusters near several nuclear power sites in Europe.
According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, a nuclear energy expert, nuclear power
plants produce numerous dangerous, carcinogenic elements. Among them are:
iodine 131, which bio-concentrates in leafy vegetables and milk and can
induce thyroid cancer; strontium 90, which bio-concentrates in milk and
bone, and can induce breast cancer, bone cancer, and leukemia; cesium 137,
which bio-concentrates in meat, and can induce a malignant muscle cancer
called a sarcoma; and plutonium 239. Plutonium 239 is so dangerous that
one-millionth of a gram is carcinogenic, and can cause liver cancer, bone
cancer, lung cancer, testicular cancer, and birth defects. Because safe and
healthy power sources like solar and wind exist now, we don't have to rely
on risky nuclear power.
6. Not enough sites - Scaling up to 17,000 - or 2,500 or 3,000 -- nuclear
plants isn't possible simply due to the limitation of feasible sites.
Nuclear plants need to be located near a source of water for cooling, and
there aren't enough locations in the world that are safe from droughts,
flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other potential disasters that could
trigger a nuclear accident. Over 24 nuclear plants are at risk of needing
to be shut down this year because of the drought in the Southeast. No
water, no nuclear power.
There are many communities around the country that simply won't allow a new
nuclear plant to be built - further limiting potential sites. And there are
whole areas of the world that are unsafe because of political instability
and the high risk of proliferation. In short, geography, local politics,
political instability and climate change itself, there are not enough sites
for a scaled up nuclear power strategy.
Remember that climate change is causing stronger storms and coastal
flooding, which in turn reduces the number of feasible sites for nuclear
power plants. Furthermore, due to all of the other strikes against nuclear
power, many communities will actively fight against nuclear plants coming
into their town. How could we get enough communities on board to accept the
grave risks of nuclear power, if we need to build 17, let alone, 17,000 new
7. Not enough uranium - Even if we could find enough feasible sites for a
new generation of nuclear plants, we're running out of the uranium necessary
to power them. Scientists in both the US and UK have shown that if the
current level of nuclear power were expanded to provide all the world's
electricity, our uranium would be depleted in less than ten years.
As uranium supplies dwindle, nuclear plants will actually begin to use up
more energy to mine and mill the uranium than can be recovered through the
nuclear reactor process. What's more, dwindling supplies will trigger the
use of ever lower grades of uranium, which produce ever more climate-
change-producing emissions - resulting in a climate-change catch 22.
8. Costs - Some types of energy production, such as solar power, experience
decreasing costs to scale. Like computers and cell phones, when you make
more solar panels, costs come down. Nuclear power, however, will experience
increasing costs to scale. Due to dwindling sites and uranium resources,
each successive new nuclear power plant will only see its costs rise, with
taxpayers and consumers ultimately paying the price.
What's worse, nuclear power is centralized power. A nuclear power plant
brings few jobs to its local economy. In contrast, accelerating solar and
energy efficiency solutions creates jobs good-paying, green collar, jobs in
Around the world, nuclear plants are seeing major cost overruns. For
example, a new generation nuclear plant in Finland is already experiencing
numerous problems and cost overruns of 25 percent of its $4 billion budget.
The US government's current energy policy providing more than $11 billion in
subsidies to the nuclear energy could be much better spent providing safe
and clean energy that would give a boost to local communities, like solar
and wind power do. Subsidizing costly nuclear power plants directs that
money to large, centralized facilities, built by a few large companies that
will take the profits out of the communities they build in.
9. Private sector unwilling to finance - Due to all of the above, the
private sector has largely chosen to take a pass on the financial risks of
nuclear power, which is what led the industry to seek taxpayer loan
guarantees from Congress in the first place.
As the Nuclear Energy Institute recently reported in a brief to the US
Department of Energy, "100 percent loan coverage [by taxpayers] is essential
... because the capital markets are unwilling, now and for the foreseeable
future, to provide the financing necessary" for new nuclear power plants.
Wall Street refuses to invest in nuclear power because the plants are
assumed to have a 50 percent default rate. The only way that Wall Street
will put their money behind these plants is if American taxpayers
underwrite the risks. If the private sector has deemed nuclear power too
risky, it makes no sense to force taxpayers to bear the burden.
And finally, even if all of the above strikes against nuclear power didn't
exist, nuclear power still can't be a climate solution because there is
10. No time - Even if nuclear waste, proliferation, national security,
accidents, cancer and other dangers of uranium mining and transport, lack of
sites, increasing costs, and a private sector unwilling to insure and
finance the projects weren't enough to put an end to the debate of nuclear
power as a solution for climate change, the final nail in nuclear's coffin
is time. We have the next ten years to mount a global effort against
climate change. It simply isn't possible to build 17,000 - or 2,500 or 17
for that matter - in ten years.
With so many strikes against nuclear power, it should be off the table as a
climate solution, and we need to turn our energies toward the technologies
and strategies that can truly make a difference: solar power, wind power,
and energy conservation.
Distributed by Minuteman Media
Alisa Gravitz is executive director of Green America