Why Nuclear Power Is Not a Magic Bullet…
for global warming
Nuclear power is aggressively promoted as the “clean” magic bullet for global warming. Here are five reasons why the claim (corporate spin) is untrue.
1. Nuclear produces greenhouse gases (GHGs)
The nuclear industry is very energy-intensive and uses massive fossil fuels - from mining, refining and enriching uranium to transporting and storing nuclear wastes. The most potent of the GHGs - the otherwise banned ozone-depleting CFC’s - continue to be released through uranium enrichment. Saskatchewan’s uranium is enriched in the U.S. using a coal-fired plant. At best, a nuclear plant produces 1/3 of the GHGs, as an equivalent sized gas-fired plant. An expanding nuclear industry will be forced to use lower grade uranium, requiring even more fossil fuels, with less and less net energy gain.
2. Nuclear is a Cancer Industry
Calling nuclear “clean” is Orwellian and obscene. It spreads radioactivity in the earth’s biosphere, and this bio-accumulates long after nuclear power plants shut down. Radiation released from the 1986 Chernobyl accident spread cancer and suffering widely, leaving some areas in Europe unsafe for growing food for as long as 600 years. Fuelling the 435 reactors worldwide leaves hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive tailings in mining regions, such as Northern Saskatchewan. Reactors “legally” release hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive gases and elements yearly. Each reactor produces ever-accumulating radioactive wastes as spent fuel that will have to be managed for millennium. Ever since the industry began in 1945, we have been asked to make a very risky and costly “leap of faith” that the storage problem will be solved. No safe and secure system of storing nuclear wastes has been created.
Cameco and other nuclear proponents tell us a majority of Saskatchewan people support uranium mining for the “economic development.” But this is not informed consent. And even if a majority supported the export of a carcinogen, would this make it alright?
3. Nuclear is Not Peaceful
A 1,000-megawatt reactor yearly produces 500 pounds of the very carcinogenic element plutonium – with a half-life of 24,400 years. That means in 24,400 years it will still be half as radioactive. Only ten pounds is required for an atomic bomb, and Canada’s Candu reactor has already played a part in nuclear proliferation, most notably in the arms race between India and Pakistan. Saskatchewan uranium was a primary source for thousands of U.S. and U.K. nuclear weapons in the first Arms Race (1953-66). In spite of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), depleted uranium (DU) left from enriching Saskatchewan’s uranium exported for U.S. nuclear power plants remains available to the military for producing nuclear weapons, including H-Bombs. “DU Bullets” are now spreading radioactivity and cancer in Iraq and the Middle East. As the world’s major uranium-producing region, Saskatchewan is directly complicit in this low-level nuclear war. Our ever-denying governments and corporations will likely be seen as “war” and “ecological” criminals by future generations. They should be made accountable now.
France is the most nuclear-dependent country at 70% electricity. It has an interlocked military-industrial nuclear system and only recently stopped aboveground nuclear tests and signed the NPT. It relies on Saskatchewan uranium. The largest single source of uranium for the U.S. military-industrial nuclear complex is also Saskatchewan.
4. Nuclear Is Impractical
Nuclear electricity has been massively subsidized by a handful of nuclear weapons powers (mostly France, U.S, Britain and Russia) who now try to profit through exporting nuclear technology to the “needy” industrializing (mostly Asian) world. Yet after 50 years nuclear power only supplies 17% of electricity worldwide. Meanwhile, coal produces two-thirds (64%) of electricity worldwide. And even if coal-dependent China built 30 new nuclear plants, nuclear would produce only 5% of its energy mix, which wouldn’t make a dint in its increasing GHGs. Conservation, energy efficiency and perhaps a shift to “clean coal” is the realistic, cost-effective transition to sustainable, renewable energy that addresses global warming. This conversion continues to be frustrated by huge taxpayer’s subsidies to nuclear, which distort the energy market. George Bush’s 2005 Energy Bill committed another 13 billion dollars to help the fledgling nuclear industry, something Helen Caldicott rightly calls a “theft from the production of cheap renewable electricity.”
According to Energy Probe, when you consider debt and interest costs over the last five decades, the Canadian nuclear industry has received 75 billion dollars in public subsidies. Think what this scale of investment could have achieved in renewables.
Uranium, like oil, is non-renewable. If nuclear power replaced coal for generating electricity, we would run out of accessible uranium in less than a decade. Spending money on expanding nuclear therefore just postpones the inevitable – the need to convert to sustainable, renewable energy. It squanders capital needed for this transformation, while increasing the burden of more toxic radiation and huge decommissioning costs for future generations. This is immoral in every sense of the term.
5. There is a Revolution in Renewables
Renewables include wind, solar, biomass, co-generation, geothermal, and kinetic energy. They also include “marine energy” (tidal and wave), which the British government-created Carbon Trust has said could produce 20% of the U.K.’s electricity. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has calculated that in the year 2004 alone, the amount of electricity supplied by renewables (excluding large hydro dams) added 500 times the total capacity worldwide that nuclear contributed. A political and technological revolution towards ecological sustainability is clearly possible.
The EU is now committed to reducing GHGs by 20% by 2020 by increasing wind and solar power.
Meanwhile the Harper Federal and Calvert Provincial governments continue with nuclear expansion. With support from the Sask Party, Calvert’s NDP is promoting a uranium refinery, and Harper’s Conservatives fantasize using nuclear power to increase the extraction of the west’s heavy oil – the dirtiest of all oils. If we continue on this destructive and dangerous path, we could become an international nuclear waste dump. We need a fundamental redirection of energy policy to address global warming and truly contribute to sustainability and world peace.
In Canada, hydro produces 60%, coal produces 22% and nuclear produces 14% of electricity. Clearly, conservation and renewables can phase-out both nuclear and coal.
Accepting the latest deception of the nuclear industry would be like going from the global warming “frying pan into the nuclear fire.”
This research is from Helen Caldicott’s Nuclear Power is not the Answer (2006), and Jim Harding’s Canada’s Deadly Secret (2007). It is produced for the Non-Nuclear Network and can be used by any Environmental/Non-nuclear/Social Justice group.