Bags of radiation-contaminated materials, to be stored in a mountain, in Kawauchi, Japan, Nov. 16, 2012. With the slow pace of cleanup efforts, residents of Okuma, a town evacuated in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, have become pessimistic about ever living there again. (Photo: Ko Sasaki / The New York Times)Many citizens do not want nuclear power. They know it is both far too dangerous and far too expensive. UK governments have largely supported nuclear power as well as nuclear weapons. Many citizens do not want nuclear weapons because they know they are insanely dangerous, and they want to live without the constant threat of sudden and complete annihilation hanging over them and their children. The close relationship between the weapons and power in every sense of the word may explain differences in politicians’ and citizens’ agendas on these issues.
The remedy is for us to wise up, get organized and then instruct the politicians to either do what we want – or join the job market. Here are 10 reasons we should reject nuclear power now.
1. Nuclear Power Stations are Prohibitively Dangerous.
There have now been four grave nuclear reactor accidents: Windscale in Britain in 1957 (the one that is never mentioned), Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986 and now Fukushima. Each accident was unique, and each was supposed to have been impossible.
A recent book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, concludes that, based on records now available, some 985,000 people died between 1986 and 2004, mainly of cancer, as a result of the Chernobyl accident.
Alice Slater, New York representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, comments: “The tragic news uncovered by comprehensive new research that almost one million people died in the toxic aftermath of Chernobyl should be a wake-up call to people all over the world to petition their governments to put a halt to the current industry-driven ‘nuclear renaissance.’ Aided by a corrupt IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the world has been subjected to a massive coverup and deception about the true damages caused by Chernobyl.”
At Fukushima we have the worst industrial disaster ever. Three simultaneous ongoing complete meltdowns have proven impossible to stop or contain since they started almost two years ago. These meltdowns are still pouring radiation pollution across the Japanese landscape.
International experts (e.g. Charles Perrow in Normal Accidents) agree that there will continue to be disastrous failures at nuclear power stations, and that this cannot be avoided.
As Edward Teller, the great nuclear physicist, said, “If you [try to] construct something foolproof, there will always be a fool greater than the proof.”
2. Nuclear Power Stations are Prohibitively Expensive.
Nuclear power stations are so expensive that they are never built without substantial contribution to their costs from citizens in the form of subsidies.
The UK government has said it will not subsidize new nuclear power stations. However this seems to refer to the most overt form of subsidies and not to “hidden” subsidies.
Nuclear power stations are so dangerous that no insurance company will undertake to pay the total costs of a disaster or a terrorist attack. So to get them built, the government has to limit liability. This is a subsidy.
The cost of decommissioning also is an enormous sum. Any limitation to liability for decommissioning costs will be a subsidy. If the industry does not pay the total costs of disposing of nuclear waste and ensuring it is safe for thousand of years, then this is a subsidy. The industry does not pay the total costs of all research into nuclear energy. This is a subsidy.
3. The Same Technology is Used for Power and Weapons.
Any country that purifies uranium for use in nuclear power stations can also use its purification plant to manufacture weapons-grade fissile material. Nuclear power stations use the same technology as that required to manufacture nuclear weapons.
Already, nuclear power development has been used repeatedly as a cover for creating nuclear weapons. Of the 10 nations that have developed nuclear weapons, Jim Green, of Friends of the Earth, Australia, tells us, “six did so with political cover and/or technical support from their supposedly peaceful nuclear program – India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa, North Korea and France.”
4. Nuclear Waste is Dangerous for Thousands of Years.
Since nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years, we are dumping our energy problems on future generations instead of using the benign methods of creating energy that are available to us.
The currently favored “solution” of burying the waste in bedrock and sealing off access forever is desperate and irresponsible.
5. Plants and Waste Storage are Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack.
Because of their potential of mass destruction, nuclear power stations are a major target for terrorists. The 9/11 atrocity would be tiny by comparison. If a large plane were flown into a nuclear power station, the disaster would be immeasurably worse than Chernobyl.
John Large, an international independent expert on nuclear power, has said that if a plane was flown into the nuclear waste storage tanks at Sellafield, the whole of the English Midlands could be catastrophically contaminated.
Safety studies of Sellafield carried out for local authorities tell us that a direct hit by a passenger jet on the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant would contaminate Britain with two and a half times more radioactivity than the amount that escaped during the Chernobyl disaster.
The studies also inform us that up to 2,646 pounds of the highly radioactive and long-lasting isotope caesium-137 would be released into the atmosphere, contaminating Britain, Ireland, continental Europe and beyond, making huge swathes of the country uninhabitable and causing more than two million cancers.
In the light of the twin towers atrocity, this is a completely unacceptable risk.
6. They Epitomize the Centralization of Power.
There is a burgeoning awareness among citizens that they are more free and more in control of their lives if facilities and decision-making occur at the local level, that national government should only control those matters that cannot be dealt with locally. Nuclear power is the ultimate way of centralizing power, putting it in the hands of experts, multinational corporations and national – often distant – government. In complete contrast to this, benign methods of supplying power, such as wind and water turbines, solar energy and heat pumps can be in the control of local communities and even, for some provisions, households.
7. Poor countries are made dependent on rich ones.
Poor countries do not have the knowledge and facilities to design, build, maintain and run their own nuclear power stations. This puts them at the mercy of the rich and more technically advanced states if they go down the nuclear power route.
Technically less advanced countries with nuclear power stations increase the safety risks. As Professor Peter Bradford of Vermont Law School, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, writes, “A world more reliant on nuclear power would involve many plants in countries that have little experience with nuclear energy, no regulatory background in the field and some questionable records on quality control, safety and corruption.” By adopting benign forms of power supply, the UK could help to promote the people-friendly way forward.
8. These plants draw funds away from the development of sustainable energy.
The spending of funds on research and other nuclear power development is highly detrimental to the development of sustainable energy supplies.
Each nuclear power plant costs around 5 billion pounds (7.9 billion in US dollars) to build. With such sums available, we could quickly realize our sustainable energy potential. As Friends of the Earth tell us, “With some of the windiest weather in Europe and almost 8,000 miles of coastline, the UK is a powerhouse waiting to be switched on.”
9. Uranium will become increasingly scarce.
The quantity of available uranium is limited and will decline. The price will go up. If the world adopts nuclear power as a major source of energy, there will be uranium wars just as there are now oil wars. There are unlikely to be wars fought over sustainable locally generated solar, wind or wave power.
Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at MIT’s Center for International Studies writes, “. . . shortage of uranium and of processing facilities worldwide leaves a gap between the potential increase in demand for nuclear energy and the ability to supply fuel for it.”
10. Government supports nuclear power against the will of the people.
The adoption of nuclear power is favored by the government, but in a referendum, it would be rejected by citizens as being too dangerous and too expensive. A major reason that government favors this form seems to be due to vast amounts of money and effort being put into lobbying by the power companies. Their profits are huge, so they have the funds for lobbying, whereas the NGOs and citizens-at-large, who are against nuclear power and have overwhelming arguments, do not make the same impact because they lack the funds for effective lobbying.
This is one tendency we are trying to help counter by this article.T