Some of my fellow environmentalists are promoting the idea of building new nuclear power plants as an alternative to fossil fuel power plants. The nuclear power industry and its governmental allies are spending tens of millions to promote atomic power as an “emissions-free” energy source. There are several reasons that I don’t think that is a good idea. I am pleased that PG&E decided to decommission Diablo Canyon, rather than apply for a renewed permit.
History of Nuclear Power Plants
When nuclear power plants were first proposed back in the 1950s, they were sold on the basis of “almost free electricity.” That has proven to be a false hope. The costs of constructing the plants make them considerably more expensive than wind, solar and geo-thermal developments. Insurance companies wisely want nothing to do with them, so the U.S. government has to be willing to pay in the event of a disaster such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. Both of these plants are requiring tens of billions of dollars to shut down and clean-up. The areas around them will be uninhabitable for centuries, while those poor souls who were living in the neighborhoods at the time of the accidents suffer cancer rates that are off the charts.
What about the spent fuel, which is still highly radioactive? Most of it is being stored at the power plant sites. The citizens of Nevada have made it clear that they don’t want it to be buried in their backyard. If the moribund and scientifically-indefensible Yucca Mountain were to be revived, millions of tons of waste would need to be transported by rail or roadways from all across the country … another disaster waiting to happen.
Nuclear energy is created by mining uranium. This process causes serious health problems for the miners, including lung cancer and uranium poisoning. Best it be left in the ground.
Nuclear Power 20th Century Technology
Of the more than 230 attempts by the United States to construct atomic power plants in the 20th century, only 99 reactors are still operating. Most of them are nearing the end of their useful life. Fortunately, there are many alternatives. Wind and solar are growing by leaps and bounds and other sources, such as tidal energy and wave energy, are waiting to be harnessed. Energy efficiency is making big strides to reduce our needs for power. LED lights require only a small fraction of the electricity required by incandescent lightbulbs. People are becoming more aware and concerned. It’s nice to know we are helping save the planet while reducing our power bills.
Building new nuclear power plants applies a 20th-century technology to a 21st century problem (global warming). Proponents of nuclear power would have us believe that humankind is smart enough to safely store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time isn’t smart enough to figure out how to store solar electricity overnight.
I say let’s place our bets on true renewables and keep the nuclear genie in the bottle.
This article first appeared in the January 4, 2017 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Bob Hanson