Arguments Against Nuclear Power

By Chris Tindal, Green Party of Canada candidate, Toronto Centre

I randomly came across this website the other day. It took me a little longer than it should have to realize it was a sarcastic joke, but once I got there I was quite amused. (which appears to be a project of Greenpeace) is a mocking and timely look at nuclear power, and the misinformation that we're being fed about it. (Timely, because nuclear power has been back in the news recently, and will likely should be a major issue in the next provincial election.)

When I first joined the Green Party a few years ago, I was reluctant to declare myself anti-nuclear. What I'd heard and read had led me to believe that nuclear power was a good solution to our energy needs, especially in the context of the need to fight climate change. What I've learned since then has changed my mind. In fact, by using the keywords "affordable, reliable, and clean" in their PR campaigns, it's almost as if the nuclear industry thought it would be funny to identify their greatest weaknesses and try and convince us they were actually strengths.


For many, of all the arguments against nuclear, none are more convincing than the economic ones. Nuclear power plants are insanely expensive to build, insanely expensive to maintain, almost always go over budget, and require ongoing hidden government subsidization in the form of expensive insurance and other financial support. For example, the Darlington plant was originally budgeted at $2.5 Billion and came in at $14.4 Billion. In fact, we have an entire corporate entity in Ontario dedicated to managing the debt that we still have left over from the nuclear plants we've already built. And now, Dalton McGuinty is proposing to spend another $40,000,000,000 on new plants. That works out to about $4000 per individual, or $16,000 for a household of four. Imagine the investments that could be made in conservation and decentralized, local generation for that kind of money. Now try and imagine anyone wanting to pay for nuclear power if they had to pay the true, full cost.


Our history with nuclear power in Ontario has taught us that it's anything but. Reactors go down more often and for longer periods of time than they're supposed to. And when a nuclear reactor goes down, it's a big, expensive, time-consuming problem to fix (in stark contrast to, say, if a wind turbine stops turning for a few hours or even days).


It's simply untrue to claim that nuclear is "emissions free." While it does have fewer direct emissions than coal, the process of mining and transporting the radioactive uranium is a dirty and fossil-fuel-dependent process. Then, of course, there's the little issue of the waste that's left over.


Centralized forms of electricity generation like nuclear are fundamentally less secure than decentralized ones like small-scale hydro, wind and solar, geothermal, and demand shifting. Never mind the fact that in 2003 one tree branch was able to take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard (a result of rigid, centralized systems), nuclear power plants make great targets for terrorists. I'd suggest we don't need any more targets in a time when our own senate says we can't even secure our airports.

Nuclear Weapons?

On a related note, there's a closer connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons than we'd generally like to admit. There are therefore ethical implications not only to developing nuclear power domestically, but also to selling our technology internationally.


Nuclear power is unsustainable on two counts, and on a relatively short timeline. First, nuclear power is dependent-throughout many stages of production-on fossil fuels. Now that geologists are debating not if we're going to run out of easily accessible oil, but when, the reality is that nuclear power will become increasingly expensive and unfeasible as we pass peak oil and descend down the unsatisfying denouement on the other side. Second, there is a finite amount of available and appropriate uranium in the world. According to National Geographic, "readily available uranium fuel won't last much more than 50 years." Technological advancements will no doubt draw this number out (maybe 100 years? 150?), but it's worth keeping in mind, especially when taking into account how long it takes to build a nuclear power plant in the first place (about 12 years).

As I've mentioned throughout this post, there are lots of alternatives to nuclear. Proponents of nuclear power will always counter by pointing out that there's nothing else that can produce the huge amount of electricity that nuclear does, and they're right. But that doesn't make all of the above problems magically disapear. The bottom line is, we need to use less energy.

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