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Nuclear “Solution” Includes Hidden Costs
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by Frank Fox | 2007

The environmental risks of nuclear power show that it is not the solution to global warming, in the short or long term

Potential local economic gain should not drive state and federal energy policy. The people of Maryland would be better served by a thoughtful long-term conservation and energy efficiency program that reduces demand for electrical energy. The assertion that nuclear power is the only energy source capable of solving global warming in the short term is erroneous.

According to New Mexico Sierra Club staffer Shrayas A. Jatkar, an expansion of nuclear power will damage the environment in several ways: Uranium enrichment— an integral stage in the nuclear fuel cycle— releases chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere, contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. The uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky, is the largest source of CFC emissions in the U.S. Uranium mining, milling and conversion, as well as  transportation and plant construction activities, also foul our air with carbon emissions.

Furthermore, nuclear power cannot make a decisive difference in the short term. An additional 1,500 to 2,000 nuclear reactors are required to make a sizable impact on global warming, according to studies conducted by MIT and the International Atomic Energy Agency. This translates to a new reactor coming online every two weeks for the next 60 years— an impossible schedule given that the current average time frame ranges from six to 10 years.

Nuclear power is not a solution to global warming in the long term either. Nuclear power only addresses electricity generation, and not emissions from vehicles and buildings.

Jatkar also notes that reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel would not obviate the need for multiple Yucca Mountain radioactive waste storage centers. Reprocessing does not reduce the volume of waste: fuel pellet volume is magnified; high-level liquid waste is created; and radioactive gases such as tritium are released into the environment. Similarly, reprocessing does not lower the total radioactivity of the waste— it only spreads out the radioactivity into multiple forms.

Reprocessing, which is sometimes referred to as recycling, has been an environmental and economic disaster. In the United States alone, storage tanks containing reprocessing waste are leaking and threatening nearby bodies of water as well as the communities that depend on them. Examples include the Snake River Aquifer (Idaho National Laboratories, ID), the Savannah River (Savannah River Site, SC), and the Columbia River (Hanford Nuclear Reservation, WA).

As Harvard University’s Matthew Bunn notes, reprocessing also leads to the proliferation of weapons-grade plutonium, which would make the world less secure.

Nuclear power, like coal, should be a relic of the past, and has no place in our energy future. The only way that the nuclear industry has survived this long is with the support of huge government subsidies— in other words, at the expense of taxpayers. Far better alternatives exist, including energy efficiency measures, conservation, and wind and solar power generation.

We here in Maryland should embrace a green energy economy, which would attract investment, provide good jobs, meet our country’s energy needs, and save consumers money, while protecting our health and environment. Unlike nuclear power, we need not wait 10 years to enjoy the benefits of a local, green energy economy.

Transition away from dirty, fossil fuel-based energy can promote new jobs and manufacturing here in the United States while creating safe, clean energy. American ingenuity can also vastly expand conservation through development of fuel-efficient vehicles, energy-saving lighting, and innovative building techniques.

This year both houses of the Maryland General Assembly considered the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2007 (SB 409/HB 890) which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland. Neither SB 409 or HB 890 were voted out of committee. We must encourage passage of this strong legislation next year to fight global warming, clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and protect our health.

> 2007 Table of Contents

   
   

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