Renewables and efficiency are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner
A compilation of information from various named sources by Angie Zelter, 31st May 2011.
Without access to water and power, any nuclear plant is a Fukushima waiting to happen.
1. Nuclear Power is Dangerous and a Threat to Security
No reactors are accident-proof and a serious accident could happen in any power station as a result of technical defect or human error, releasing large quantities of radioactivity into the environment.
An average reactor contains the equivalent long-lived radioactivity of at least 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.
Human factors and the effectiveness of people determine success or failure at every stage, from the design of a plant and its equipment, through manufacture, construction, installation and calibration, to testing, maintenance, repair, and management.” Every nuclear plant is extremely complex, with thousands of pumps, valves, motors and miles of electrical circuits. Therefore, human error, design flaws, and equipment malfunctions are common. “All nuclear-power-plant systems, structures, components, procedures, and personnel are potential sources of failures and malfunctions. Problems can arise from defects in design, manufacturing, installation, and construction; from testing, operational, and maintenance errors; from explosions and fires; from excessive corrosion, vibration, stress, heating, cooling, radiation damage, and other physical phenomena; from deterioration due to component ageing, and from externally initiated events such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and sabotage.” Because many experienced workers have retired or are nearing retirement age, the industry is faced with a serious shortage of qualified personnel, including some who have important memories of past plant problems.
An accident can be catastrophic, causing the release of tremendous amounts of radioactivity. Few if any communities have adequate emergency plans, including reliable warning systems and emergency responders who are trained and equipped to deal with radiological devastation on this scale. They lack isolated hospital space for the treatment of irradiated victims. It is unrealistic to assume that a large, panicked population could be evacuated safely. No emergency plan addresses the permanent relocation of people from their homesand communities because of long-term radioactive contamination.
Numerous accidents have already occurred in the nuclear power industry. A Chernobyl or Fukushima could happen here in the UK too. A meltdown could cause tens of thousands of deaths and spread radioactive contamination across vast areas for centuries. The heavy fallout from Chernobyl fell over areas in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Europe, Turkey, the USA and eventually reached four continents. The 36-mile diameter “dead zone” surrounding the reactor site is still sealed by checkpoints today, and initiated the official evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and the abandonment of more than 600 years of continuous human habitation around the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat. Large radioactive “hot spots” extending hundreds of miles away remainpublic health hazards today.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 2005 estimate of about 4,000 Chernobyl deaths contrasts with a rigorous 2009 review of 5,000 mainly Slavic-language scientific papers the IAEA overlooked. It found deaths approaching a million through 2004, nearly 170,000 of them in North America. The total toll now exceeds a million, plus ahalf-trillion dollars' economic damage.
To date over seven million people in the former Soviet Republics of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are believed to have suffered medical problems and genetic damage as the direct result of Chernobyl. In Ukraine alone, more than 2.32 million people, including 452,000 children, have been treated for radiation-linked illnesses, including thyroid and blood cancers and cancerous growths according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health. The Swiss Medical Weekly published the findings of the Clinical Institute of Radiation Medicine and Endocrinology Research in Minsk, Belarus showing a 40% increase in cancer in the Belarus population between 1990 and 2000. Researchers used data from the country’s National Cancer Registry, established in 1973, comparing the post-Chernobyl period with cancer rates before the accident. The ever-widening effects of the Chernobyl accident are more recently documented in Sweden. The new findings reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published by the British Medical Association concluded that more than 800 cancers in Sweden are beingattributed to the “Chernobyl effect.”
According to the official "German Nuclear Power Station Risk Study - Phase B", a German nuclear power station in operation over some 40 years has a 0.1 percent probability of a worst-case scenario nuclear incident. In the European Union there are more than 150 operational nuclear power stations. The probability of a worst-case scenario nuclear incident is around 16% in Europe. That equates to the chances of throwing a 6 with the first cast of the dice. Worldwide there are some 440 operational nuclear power stations. The probability of a major worst-case scenario incident within the next 40 years is in the region of 40 percent.
Reactors are poorly-protected sitting-duck targets. Terrorists could attack a reactor, the fuel storage pool, or other critical components, causing the release of vast amounts of radioactivity. No nuclear reactor would withstand a direct hit from a jumbo jet which could have an impact many times worse than the explosion at Chernobyl. If the World Trade Center terrorists had instead flown their planes into the Indian Point nuclear reactor just north of Manhattan, the city would have been rendered uninhabitable for hundreds of years. No meaningful security improvements have been made since 9/11.
Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear energy also fuels nuclear weapons as all reactors create fissile materials that can be used to make nuclear bombs. A typical commercial reactor produces enough plutonium every year to make at least 40 nuclear bombs. France and the U.K. alone have already extracted and stockpiled enough commercial plutonium to make over 30,000 Nagasaki-type atomic weapons. Civilian nuclear programs provide the materials, knowledge and technology to transition to nuclear weapons production as happened in France, South Africa, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Other countries, particularly those like Japan with plutonium reprocessing and Iran with uranium enrichment, could easily follow suit if they decided to do so. Any nuclear expansion increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and impedes the goal of nuclear disarmament.
Nuclear Power is a Major Health Hazard
Even without disasters, attacks, or accidents the productions of nuclear energy releases harmful quantities of radiation at all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining, extraction, enrichment, transport, and during the routine nuclear power plant operation itself. And, as yet, there is no solution to the storing of spent nuclear fuel, the radioactive waste by-product of nuclear power production, which is highly dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Building nuclear reactors without knowing what to do with this radioactive waste is dangerously irresponsible.
Health Effects of Radiation
Exposure to ionizing radiation increases the risk of damage to cells, tissues, and DNA, potentially causing mutations, cancer, birth defects, and reproductive, immune, cardiovascular and endocrine disorders. Radioactive hydrogen and carbon, produced in great quantities, can be incorporated into protein, carbohydrate and fat molecules throughout the body. Foetuses and children are especially susceptible to radiation injury because of the rapid and abundant cell division in their bodies during growth. According to the US National Research Council’s report no level of radiation exposure is harmless however small, including background radiation; exposure is cumulative and adds to an individual's risk of developing cancer.
Internal radiation emanates from radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as iodine-131, caesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow's meat and milk, then humans). After they enter the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, where they continuously irradiate small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years, can induce uncontrolled cell replication – that is, cancer. Further, many of the nuclides remain radioactive in the environment for generations, and ultimately will cause increased incidences of cancer and genetic diseases over time. The grave effects of internal emitters are of the most profound concern at Fukushima.
There has been a great deal of controversy over the consequences of the Chernobyl Accident. Helen Caldicott has recently explained, “Various seemingly reputable groups have issued differing reports on the morbidity and mortalities resulting from the 1986 radiation catastrophe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2005 issued a report attributing only 43 human deaths directly to the Chernobyl disaster and estimating an additional 4,000 fatal cancers. In contrast, the 2009 report, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, comes to a very different conclusion. The three scientist authors – Alexey V Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V Nesterenko – provide in its pages a translated synthesis and compilation of hundreds of scientific articles on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster that have appeared in Slavic language publications over the past 20 years. They estimate the number of deaths attributable to the Chernobyl meltdown at about 980,000.” She goes on to explain why WHO is no longer a reliable source.
Environmental Contamination is Long-Lasting
In the United Kingdom, approximately 2,500 km from Chernobyl, fallout was deposited on sheep-grazing upland areas in Wales, Cumbria and Scotland following heavy rainfall. As a result, 8,900 farms were placed under restriction. In particular, the movement, sale and slaughter of 4,225,000 sheep were restricted in order to stop contaminated animals from entering the food chain. As of 2005, these restrictions remain on 375 farms and 215,000 sheep (RIFE, 2005).
Similar situations exist in parts of Sweden and Finland as regards stock animals, including reindeer, in natural and near-natural environments. From a 2002 survey in EU Member States, wild game (including boar and deer), wild mushrooms, berries and carnivore fish from lakes in certain regions of Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Poland could occasionally reach caesium-137 contamination levels of several thousand Bq/kg.
In Germany, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) stated in its 2004 annual report that wild boar remained highly contaminated by Cs-137, especially in the south of the country. According to studies carried out in 2004 in the Bavarian forest, soil contamination levels were still as high as 100,000 Bq/kg. Cs-137 levels in wild boar muscle were between 60 and 40,000 Bq/kg with an average of 6,800 Bq/kg. This average is >10 times the 600 Bq/kg EU limit, see table 4.2. Only 15% of the boar samples were within the EU limit, and 20% exceeded 10,000 Bq/kg. The EU limit was also exceeded in less contaminated areas of Germany, the Pfaelzerwald for instance, which had soil Cs-137 contamination levels of up to several thousand Bq/m2. Recent data from the Rhineland-Palatinate Research Institute for Forest Ecology and Forestry has revealed that more than
20% of wild boar samples had Cs-137 levels greater than 600 Bq/kg, with a peak value of 8,200 Bq/kg in 2004.
In 2005, the European Commissioner for Transport and Energy, Andris Piebalgs explained that restrictions will need to be continued for many years. “… one cannot count on notable changes in the radioactive caesium contamination of certain products from natural … environments. The radioactive caesium contamination level of these products is essentially dependent on the half-life of this radionuclide….30 years. The restrictions on certain foodstuffs from certain Member States must therefore continue to be maintained for many years to come.”
The Radioactive Waste Problem.
Nuclear waste can remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years and constitutes a life-threatening hazard because of its radioactive emissions. People, animals and plants therefore need to be shielded from it but nobody can agree on a safe way of storing it. Radioactive waste is also released into the environment at every stage of the fuel cycle.
At the mines - where radon gas is released and deposited as solid radioactive fallout (including polonium-210) on the ground for hundreds of miles downwind. Uranium miners experience high incidences of lung, stomach and skin cancers as well as leukaemia, kidney disorders and respiratory illnesses;
At mills - where enormous piles of radioactive tailings are left behind. In 1979, a nuclear accident occurred at Church Rock, New Mexico, USA, when 90 million gallons of liquid radioactive uranium mill waste were accidentally released into the Rio Puerco River, which remains contaminated today;
Throughout the processes of manufacture - during chemical conversion, enrichment, and fuel fabrication;
During routine operation - pollutants are released into the atmosphere and into the rivers, lakes, and oceans that provide reactor cooling water. It is impossible to run a reactor without these routine releases. No economically feasible technology exists to filter out all the radioisotopes, including tritium (radioactive hydrogen) and radioactive krypton and xenon gases, some of which convert into radioactive strontium and caesium.
Every nuclear power station converts uranium fuel rods through nuclear fission into highly radioactive nuclear waste. Nuclear power stations have been in operation for some 50 years but to date no one knows how nuclear waste can ultimately be stored. Worldwide there is not one safe and secure disposal option for the highly radioactive waste produced by nuclear power stations. Old fuel rods (termed high-level waste) however, must be replaced periodically with fresh ones. The irradiated rods are therefore either temporarily stored (in a water-filled pool within the reactor building or in an adjacent building and after a few years, placed in steel-lined concrete casks outside, to await a permanent solution) or reprocessed.
Reprocessing involves cutting up the rods, soaking them in acid and extracting residues of plutonium and uranium to be turned into usable reactor fuel. However, the other leftover radioactive fission products, now liberated from the fuel rods, remain as a containment problem for many thousands of years. Reprocessing plants also routinely discharge radioactive gases. For example, La Hague, France, discharges more radioactive krypton-85 gas into the air in one year than was released by the more than 500 atmospheric atomic weapons tests detonated worldwide over the course of decades. Some of the krypton-85 discharged today will continue to release dangerous radioactive beta particles for more than 100 years. Reprocessing is extremely hazardous to workers and to the public downstream and downwind. It produces its own massive wastes and releases radioactive CO2 as well as other radioactive materials into the environment.
Radiation can cause birth defects, mutations, cancer, and other diseases. Studies near La Hague, France, have found elevated rates of leukaemia. Studies at Sellafield, UK, have found that children of fathers who work there suffer increased risks of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Stillbirths have also increased. Commercial reprocessing currently takes place in five countries - France, India, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom. One of the world's worst nuclear accidents occurred in 1957 at a former reprocessing plant at Mayak in the Ural Mountains of Siberia. A radioactive waste storage tank exploded, exposing 272,000 people to harmful radiation. More than half a century later, Mayak remains one of the most radioactive places on Earth.
No facility exists for most so-called “low-level” waste, either—that is, for the radioactive sludges and saturated air- and water-filters, as well as the pipes, pumps, and other components that must be replaced as they wear out or malfunction. Much of this “low level” waste is so highly radioactive that it must be handled by remote-control equipment. The longer a nuclear plant operates, the greater is its accumulation of radioactive waste.
Radioactive waste is dangerous not only now, but some remains dangerous virtually forever. Each type of radioactive isotope continues to give off rays and radioactive particles at a constant rate regardless of the temperature, pressure, or chemical environment, until it decays into a different radioactive or stable isotope. Nothing can alter or stop this rate. A radioactive isotope emits appreciable radiation for over 10 times its half-life. (After one half-life, half the radioactivity is gone. After two half-lives, three-quarters is gone. But even after 10 half-lives, some radioactivity remains.) This means some radioisotopes, like plutonium-239 with its 24,000-year half-life, will be dangerous much longer than modern humans have walked on the Earth. If prehistoric man had already had nuclear power stations we would even today still be having to maintain a watch over his waste.
3. Nuclear Energy is Excessively Expensive
Nuclear power plants are so complicated that they are subject to extremely high construction costs. The industry has a history of huge cost-overruns and lengthy delays and cannot survive in a market economy without massive subsidies. The true cost has been hidden by extensive government subsidies, limits on liability for accidents, and the costs for waste storage and nuclear power plant decommissioning not being added to pricing structures. Even without these costs included, the price of nuclear energy per kilowatt hour is approximately twice that of natural gas and is unlikely to decrease. The costs of wind and solar, on the other hand, are now cheaper than nuclear energy and rapidly falling as energy efficiency improves and economies of scale kick in. Even as long ago as 2003 the Cabinet Office estimated that nuclear would cost more per KWh than on- or off-shore wind.
Not only are nuclear power construction costs expensive but operating costs are also high due to dealing with radioactive contamination. Large and small components and whole buildings get “hot” and as reactors age and become more radioactive, operation becomes even more expensive. Repair or replacement of defective, obsolete, or worn-out equipment requires shielding for workers, as well as protective clothing, monitors and respirators. Far more workers, time, and money are required to fix a nuclear plant than a wind or solar farm. And as high-quality uranium ore becomes more scarce, its use as reactor fuel will become even more expensive, and its manufacture into fuel will increase the emission of greenhouse gases. Dismantling a decommissioned nuclear plant is also very expensive. Because no disposal site exists for most radioactive wastes the contaminated buildings and equipment may remain on site for many years and because of the dangers, environmental monitoring and armed guards will be needed indefinitely.
Nuclear power is capital intensive while renewable forms of energy are labour (job) intensive. For example, in Germany in 2002 some 30,000 people were employed in the nuclear industry. On the other hand, more than 53,000 people are presently employed in the German wind power industry alone. Overall, the renewable energies industry in Germany has already secured 120,000 jobs despite its as yet only small share of power generation. Further expansion of renewable energies is adding new jobs on a daily basis. Millions of new jobs could be created worldwide within the space of a few years by expanding the use of renewable forms of energy.
4. Nuclear Power is NOT a Solution to Climate Change
Nuclear energy is not carbon neutral. It is true that the fission of enriched uranium in a nuclear reactor to generate energy produces no carbon emissions. However, every other step required to produce nuclear energy releases carbon into the atmosphere. These include yellow-cake mining, ore transport, ore crushing, uranium extraction, uranium enrichment, uranium oxide furnacing, uranium casing (with zirconium) and nuclear power plant construction. Indeed, uranium mining and milling are among the most carbon dioxide-intensive industrial operations and the global-warming gas, carbon dioxide, released from reprocessing plants contains radioactive carbon-14, an extremely harmful isotope that persists for more than 50,000 years.
The nuclear industry repeatedly overstates nuclear energy's share of electricity generation. Nuclear power is of practically no significance for mankind's total energy needs. In 2001, nuclear electricity supplied only 2.3 percent of worldwide energy needs. Renewable energy's contribution to world energy supply is already significantly greater. The human race can easily do without nuclear power's marginal contribution. The risks of nuclear accidents, production of highly radioactive waste and the costs necessary for its disposal, bear no rational relationship to any slight short-term gain in energy that nuclear power may provide.
The nuclear industry concedes that coal, oil and gas cannot be replaced by nuclear power. In order to replace a mere 10 percent of fossil energy in the year 2050 by means of nuclear power, up to 1000 new nuclear power stations would have to be built (at the moment there are about 440 nuclear power stations worldwide). Construction of these plants would - if ever realised - take several decades. Existing uranium reserves would then be rapidly exhausted (encouraging yet another resource war). Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) admits that nuclear energy could not be expanded swiftly enough to stop climate change. The solution to the climate problem lies in the use of renewable forms of energy in conjunction with efficient and economical energy technologies.
The world’s energy needs can be met by alternatives. Wind, solar, biomass, water, and other environmentally safer energy sources whilst currently providing a small fraction of global energy sources could potentially provide a substantial portion of global energy needs. Supposedly unreliable wind-power made 43-52% of four German states' total 2010 electricity. Non-nuclear Denmark, 21% wind-powered, plans to get entirely off fossil fuels. Hawai'i plans 70% renewables by 2025.
The UK has vast renewable resources which, if combined with simple energy-saving approaches, could provide a safer, cleaner and more sensible solution than nuclear power. For instance the British Wind Energy Association estimate that the UK has, in the form of wind power, the largest renewable energy resource in Europe and Friends of the Earth believe that renewable sources could generate more than half our current electricity needs by 2025. 25 per cent alone could be generated by Government-approved offshore wind. All the major renewables can be implemented within three years. We'd be waiting at least ten for nuclear - too late for our climate and energy needs.
“Every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar. The reason is simple: you can’t spend the same dollar on two different things at the same time…New nuclear power costs far more than its distributed competitors, so it buys far less coal displacement than the competing investments it stymies.” Amory Lovins, May 2000
Reactors consume enormous quantities of water to operate. In a water-short world brought on by global warming, thermoelectric power plants deprive humans of essential water resources.
5. Nuclear Power is Unsustainable
Uranium, which is needed to operate nuclear power stations, is a scarce non-renewable resource that may only last a few more decades. "Fast breeder" reactors, with which it was hoped to stretch out the reserves for some time, have proven to be a failure on technical and commercial grounds. Humans can only meet their long-term energy needs by using forms of renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency.
6. Nuclear Power infringes Civil and Human Rights
At every phase of the nuclear chain, minorities and the low-income are often the most negatively affected. Nuclear corporations habitually violate human rights and environmental justice. The history of uranium mining represents a consistent violation of environmental justice across the globe and is replete with drastic environmental damage, serious worker safety and health abuses and harm to entire communities - most often those of low-income and indigenous peoples.