Posted by: jmtoriel | December 5, 2007

Unclear about nuclear?…

Building nuclear reactors to combat global warming as a "clean" energy alternative is the most short-sighted and impractical strategy, and yet our leaders seem to be buying the bullsh** they're trying to sell us!

In a traditional context, nuclear seems cleaner at face value when compared to burning fossil fuels, but there are many factors that are overlooked or just plain neglected. While the world focusses on Climate Change in Bali and how to combat our most pressing global issue this week, we cannot accept nuclear as a solution -- or even part of the solution!I have cited 3 important works by 3 separate authors below to help explain why:

Say No to NukesWaste disposal:

Already more than 80,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste sits in cooling pools next to the 103 US nuclear power plants, awaiting transportation to a storage facility yet to be found (this info is from 2004). This dangerous material will be an attractive target for terrorist sabotage as it travels through 39 states on roads and railway lines for the next 25 years. But the long-term storage of radioactive waste continues to pose a problem. The US Congress in 1987 chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada, 150km northwest of Las Vegas, as a repository for America's high-level waste. But Yucca Mountain has subsequently been found to be unsuitable for the long-term storage of high-level waste because it is a volcanic mountain made of permeable pumice stone and it is transected by 32 earthquake faults. A congressional committee discovered fabricated data about water infiltration and cask corrosion in Yucca Mountain that had been produced by personnel in the US Geological Survey. These startling revelations, according to most experts, have almost disqualified Yucca Mountain as a waste repository, meaning that the US now has nowhere to deposit its expanding nuclear waste inventory.

To make matters worse, a study released by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the cooling pools at nuclear reactors, which store 10 to 30 times more radioactive material than that contained in the reactor core, are subject to catastrophic attacks by terrorists, which could unleash an inferno and release massive quantities of deadly radiation -- significantly worse than the radiation released by Chernobyl, according to some scientists. [This would explain the high alert from an apparent pipe bomb in one of the employees pick ups recently in the US's largest nuclear facility, Palo Verde, Arizona. (www.nationalterroralert.com/updates/2007/11/02/pipe-bomb-incident-at-palo-verde-nuclear-power-station-worker-identified/)]

This vulnerable high-level nuclear waste contained in the cooling pools at 103 nuclear power plants in the US includes hundreds of radioactive elements that have different biological impacts in the human body, the most important being cancer and genetic diseases. 

Dumping the waste: 

The uranium mill tailings are normally dumped as a sludge in special ponds or piles, where they are abandoned. The largest such piles in the US and Canada contain up to 30 million tonnes of solid material. In Saxony, Germany, the Helmsdorf pile near Zwickau contains 50 million tonnes, and in Thuringia, the Culmitzsch pile near Seelingstädt has 86 million tonnes. The amount of sludge produced is nearly the same as that of the ore milled; at a grade of 0.1 per cent uranium, 99.9 per cent of the mined rock is left over. This contains all the constituents of the ore and 85 per cent of its initial radioactivity, as long-lived decay products such as thorium-230 and radium-226 are not removed, and up to 10 per cent of the uranium is never captured. In addition, the sludge contains heavy metals and other contaminants, such as arsenic, and residual chemical agents used during the milling process.

The true economies of the nuclear industry are never fully accounted for. The cost of uranium enrichment is subsidised by the US government. The true cost of the industry's liability in the case of an accident in the US is estimated to be $US560billion ($726billion), but the industry pays only $US9.1billion - 98per cent of the insurance liability is covered by the US federal government. The cost of decommissioning all the existing US nuclear reactors is estimated to be $US33billion. These costs - plus the enormous expense involved in the storage of radioactive waste for a quarter of a million years - are not now included in the economic assessments of nuclear electricity. 

Sustainable? Not at all.

It is said that nuclear power is "clean". The truth is very different. In the US, where much of the world's uranium is enriched, including Australia's, the enrichment facility at Paducah, Kentucky, requires the electrical output of two 1000-megawatt coal-fired plants, which emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for 50per cent of global warming. Also, this enrichment facility and another at Portsmouth, Ohio, release from leaky pipes 93per cent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas emitted yearly in the US. The production and release of CFC gas is now banned internationally by the Montreal Protocol because it is the main culprit responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion. But CFC is also a global warmer, 10,000 to 20,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, the nuclear fuel cycle utilises large quantities of fossil fuel at all of its stages - the mining and milling of uranium, the construction of the nuclear reactor and cooling towers, robotic decommissioning of the intensely radioactive reactor at the end of its 20 to 40-year operating lifetime, and transportation and long-term storage of massive quantities of radioactive waste. In summary, nuclear power produces, according to a 2004 study by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, only three times fewer greenhouse gases than modern natural-gas power stations.

Contrary to the nuclear industry's propaganda, nuclear power is therefore not green and it is certainly not clean. Nuclear reactors consistently release millions of curies of radioactive isotopes into the air and water each year. These releases are unregulated because the nuclear industry considers these particular radioactive elements to be biologically inconsequential. Wrong!

(Info source: Nuclear Power is the Problem, Not a Solution by Dr. Helen Caldicott) 

Mining and Milling:

Uranium doesn’t sit neatly in the ground in ready-to-use packages, it has to be mined and milled – both environmentally destructive processes. While the element is found everywhere on earth, geological surveys show that most deposits of uranium are found in concentrations of about 0.02-0.01 per cent (200-100g per tonne of rock). This means that around 9,800 tonnes of rock has to be mined and milled to give up one tonne of uranium. A standard 100mw/eh nuclear reactor requires in the region of 160 tonnes of uranium fuel – processed from around 16 million tonnes of rock – each year. At these levels of concentration, mining and milling uranium is uneconomic and uses more energy to recover than it will ultimately produce. Mining and milling removes hazardous constituents in the ore from their relatively safe underground location and converts them to a fine sand, making the hazardous materials more susceptible to dispersion in the environment.

There is, however, a more pressing problem for industry. Uranium is a finite fuel and it is running out. Nuclear power currently generates 2.5 per cent of the world’s electricity supply. In industrialized countries, such as the UK, US and Japan, nuclear generates in the region of 17-20 per cent of electricity. All these countries are talking about increasing their nuclear capacity. If nuclear capacity doubles in size, then the ore is going to run out in 20 years. Outside of Australia the other 60 per cent of the world’s reserves of ore are, in order of size, divided between Kazakhstan, Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, the Russian Federation, America, and Uzbekistan. As a uranium shortage looms, it is unlikely that nuclear nations such as America, Russia and Canada will sell their uranium, which means the UK will be reliant on supplies from less stable sources. Having made such a capital investment in nuclear, we would be a hostage to fortune.

Creating an electricity supply around a fuel that is known to be running out gives us no greater energy sovereignty than we would get from relying on the Middle East for oil or Russia for gas. Understandably, the nuclear industry is seeking to assure its potential markets that any uranium shortage will be addressed. To that end it has been looking at alternative sources: notably, extracting uranium from granite and seawater.

Granite has an average uranium content of four grams per tonne. Ceedata say the process would use 30 times more energy to extract the uranium than it would eventually produce.

Seawater is promoted as another option. This involves using nets in the ocean to fish for uranium, and a five stage chemical process to clean, separate and prepare it for use. The process is so complicated that it would take three times as much energy to source (including the costly desalinating of water!) as it would eventually produce and involve the use of highly-polluting chemicals.The other hope is that fast-breed reactors will come on stream. These are reactors that create their own fuel while they generate electricity. It was the promise of this technology that led to the claim 50 years ago that nuclear power would generate electricity ‘too cheap to meter’. The problem is that fast-breed reactors have never worked. ‘Breeding’ involves three complex operations working in conjunction: breeding, reprocessing and fuel fabrication, which has never been achieved. The process causes waste that clogs and corrodes the equipment undertaking it. There are three fast-breed reactors in the world: Beloyarsk-3 in Russia, Monju in Japan and Phenix in France. Monju and Phenix have long been out of operation; Beloyarsk is still operating, but it has never bred. All the while, greenhouse gas emissions will be being released into the atmosphere. A 1998 study for the Canadian nuclear industry found that for every unit of usable uranium recovered, 20 units of C02 are released into the atmosphere. This figure is generous to the industry, as it is based on extracting particularly high grades of uranium, of around one per cent. As most deposits of uranium in the world are found in concentrations of about 0.02 per cent or less, the true picture is far more corrosive. According to Ceedata, as soon as it becomes necessary to mine ores of below 100g per tonne, more C02 is emitted into the atmosphere than any emissions savings a nuclear power station could make over a 24-year generating life.(Source-- Jon Hughes, The Ecologist)

Expense and technological insanity: 

What nuclear lobbies ignore is all the coal and oil that needs to be burned to enrich uranium, to transport radioactive wastes with protective highway and rail convoys and provide security since they would be a priority target for sabotage.

Apart from that, let’s start with the technological insanity of the nuclear fuel cycle—from uranium mines and their deadly tailings, to the refining and fabrication into fuel rods, to the multi-shielded dome-like nuclear plant, to the necessity for perfect operation of the facility, to the still unresolved problems of the location and containment of hot radioactive wastes and contaminated material for the next 200,000 years!

All this for one objective—to boil water into steam. A pretty complex chain of events in order to boil water. There are far better, cheaper ways to meet the electricity needs of today’s generation without burdening future generations for centuries with the deadly waste products.

Back in the Seventies, before the public rose up and said no to nuclear power, helped by Wall Street’s reluctance to finance these trouble-prone plants, the Atomic Energy Commission projected the construction of 1000 atomic power plants in the U.S. by the year 2000. There are today 103 plants.Placing the predicted 100 plants up and down the California coastline would have been an act of peerless recklessness, especially given the earthquake faults. A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Kashiwazaki, Japan and disabled a gigantic nuclear power plant which the New York Times reported, “raised new concerns about the safety of the nation’s accident-plagued nuclear industry.” It turns out that this plant, owned by Tokyo Electric Power, may be sitting directly above an earthquake fault line. Reports show damage greater than believed the day before, including radiation leaks, damage to exhaust ducts, burst pipes and other “malfunctions” beyond the fires. Several hundred barrels of radioactive waste were toppled.The problem with nuclear power is that it gets one bite of the apple. Just one major meltdown could provoke a demand to close the industry down by overwhelming adverse public outrage. You see, way back in the Fifties and Sixties, the Atomic Energy Commission, a booster-regulatory agency for atomic power plants, estimated that an “area the size of Pennsylvania” would be contaminated in such a disaster.

Remember, Chernobyl in Ukraine is still surrounded by vacant towns and villages following the 1986 tragedy. Radioactivity found its way as far as sheep in England, nuts grown in Turkey and elsewhere. [Here are some pics: (englishrussia.com/?p=293)]

Do you know any other industry producing electricity that has to have specific evacuation plans for miles around it, is inherently a national security risk, cannot be privately insured without Congress mandating severe limited liability in case of massive casualties and requires massive taxpayer subsidies?

A most concise, authoritative case against the electric atom was recently released titled “Why a Future for the Nuclear Industry is Risky” by a group of environmental health and social investment groups. (See http://www.cleanenergy.org)

In the introduction to the report, the case against nuclear energy was summarized this way: “Wind power and other renewable technologies, combined with energy efficiency, conservation and cogeneration can be much more cost effective and can be deployed much sooner than new nuclear power plants.”Yes indeed, efficiency or conservation, with a national mission, can cut in half the waste of energy, using currently available technology and know-how, before the first privately capitalized nuclear plant opens. One scientist once described the primary output of electric generating plants as “heating the heavens.”If this insensitive industry cannot be revived by Uncle Sam’s tax treasury, Wall Street certainly has given no indication that private investment would take on the risk. Investment money is pouring presently into wind power, solar and other renewables and this is just the early springtime for these benign sources of energy.

The International Energy Agency sees a 25% cost reduction for wind power and a 50% cost reduction for solar photovoltaics from 2001 to 2020. Without Wall Street’s private capital and with rising construction and operating costs in other countries, the prospect for nuclear power being competitive, even deducting decommissioning costs, and the many millennia of waste storage costs, is not there.

Add a major accident and you’ll see, in addition to casualties and contaminated land and property, every private investor running for cover while the bill is passed on to taxpayers. Here is a suggestion to put the industry’s propaganda to rest.(Source: Amory Lovins: Rocky Mountain Institute)

That about clears it up! 

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Responses

  1. I looked through your tantrum. The reason for your confusion is that you’ve picked the most unreliable possible sources and accepted misinformation without checking any of it out.

    Put as many adjectives as you like in your article, but they won’t change the facts. The first fact is that nuclear energy has a better safety record than any other energy source, and the second is that it has the best environmental record. The third is that there are thousands of years’ worth of nuclear fuel.

    If you’re interested, you can find more information, with sources, here .

  2. @RobC

    Of course, the source you provided is a member of the Nuclear Web Ring, a group of independent websites promoting nuclear power as the only way forward. Their information, too, must be taken with a grain of salt–especially the “conclusion” that nuclear energy is cleaner than solar, and only marginally dirtier than wind. Dubious science at best.

    What this blog (Shift Happens) post attempts to point out, though (and I agree it, too, is one-sided) is that there are a myriad of unseen, unaccounted costs of nuclear power. It is not as clean as it claims, and it is certainly not as safe as proponents make it out to be. However, it’s important both sides are understood, and both sides agree on one thing: energy needs to be cleaner than it is. This, if nothing else, is a starting point.

  3. I am 61 years of age. I recall in the late 50’s my dad showing be a large magazine type publication that had cartooned illustrations depicting how the nuclear energy industry was such a good friend.

    In the 60’s it became clear there were problems.

    I have put a link from my site to this site so people can read what you have said. I am now trying looking into the ethanol boondoggle.

    http://themindseyelive.com/WorldsThoughts/viewtopic.php?t=345

  4. For the record: I’m a 21 year old engineering student. I have no commercial ties, employment or conflicts of interest with any kind of nuclear energy, mining, or similar commercial enterprise.

    “Already more than 80,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste sits in cooling pools next to the 103 US nuclear power plants, awaiting transportation to a storage facility yet to be found (this info is from 2004). This dangerous material will be an attractive target for terrorist sabotage as it travels through 39 states on roads and railway lines for the next 25 years. But the long-term storage of radioactive waste continues to pose a problem. The US Congress in 1987 chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada, 150km northwest of Las Vegas, as a repository for America’s high-level waste. But Yucca Mountain has subsequently been found to be unsuitable for the long-term storage of high-level waste because it is a volcanic mountain made of permeable pumice stone and it is transected by 32 earthquake faults. A congressional committee discovered fabricated data about water infiltration and cask corrosion in Yucca Mountain that had been produced by personnel in the US Geological Survey. These startling revelations, according to most experts, have almost disqualified Yucca Mountain as a waste repository, meaning that the US now has nowhere to deposit its expanding nuclear waste inventory.”

    That 80,000 tonnes of used fuel is not “waste” – it’s used fuel. 96% of it is just uranium, completely unchanged from when it went into the power reactor.

    It’s perfectly safe being stored on site as it currently is, and dry-cask storage is even more safe and secure.

    Even when (if?) such used fuel is transported to Yucca Mountain, it is not of concern as a terrorist target. The casks used for shipping such fuel are extremely robust, and are completely resistant to any terrorist attack or accident scenario.

    Shipping such used fuel to Yucca Mountain (or a facility somewhere else based on the same idealogy) is a terrible waste – nuclear waste is only a problem in that some people seem extremely determined to waste the stuff. Recycling the used fuel to recover that 96% uranium, along with other usable actinide fuels and valuable materials is a far more sensible option – and enormously reduces the quantity of material that might ultimately be deserving of being called radioactive waste.

    “This vulnerable high-level nuclear waste contained in the cooling pools at 103 nuclear power plants in the US includes hundreds of radioactive elements that have different biological impacts in the human body, the most important being cancer and genetic diseases.”

    This used fuel – which is being stored safely and securely and has never hurt anyone – is not waste, and certainly isn’t being spewed into the atmosphere like the dangerous waste from coal and fossil fuel combustion, which causes massive public health impacts including cancer and genetic damage, resulting from toxic heavy metals, radioactivity, and mutagenic, genotoxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in such fossil fuel waste.

    “The uranium mill tailings are normally dumped as a sludge in special ponds or piles, where they are abandoned. The largest such piles in the US and Canada contain up to 30 million tonnes of solid material. In Saxony, Germany, the Helmsdorf pile near Zwickau contains 50 million tonnes, and in Thuringia, the Culmitzsch pile near Seelingstädt has 86 million tonnes. The amount of sludge produced is nearly the same as that of the ore milled; at a grade of 0.1 per cent uranium, 99.9 per cent of the mined rock is left over. This contains all the constituents of the ore and 85 per cent of its initial radioactivity, as long-lived decay products such as thorium-230 and radium-226 are not removed, and up to 10 per cent of the uranium is never captured. In addition, the sludge contains heavy metals and other contaminants, such as arsenic, and residual chemical agents used during the milling process.”

    All those radioactive daughter products of uranium, such as radium-226, are all naturally occuring materials that occur naturally in the ground. Mining the uranium doesn’t create them. The other contaminants such as arsenic, too, are all naturally occuring materials that occur naturally within the rock in the earth.

    “The true economies of the nuclear industry are never fully accounted for. The cost of uranium enrichment is subsidised by the US government. The true cost of the industry’s liability in the case of an accident in the US is estimated to be $US560billion ($726billion), but the industry pays only $US9.1billion – 98per cent of the insurance liability is covered by the US federal government.”

    The nuclear power plants buy enriched uranium fuel from the fuel fabricators, who buy enriched uranium from USEC, or perhaps from overseas. USEC is government-owned – but so what? Where does any kind of subsidy come into it?

    The US goverment has never payed out one single cent under the Price-Anderson act. No nuclear power reactor in the United States has ever injured any person – even when a monumental accident results in the meltdown of a nuclear power reactor, not one single person was injured.

    So, how could any credible person estimate half a trillion dollars worth of liability in the event of a nuclear power reactor accident in the US?

    “The cost of decommissioning all the existing US nuclear reactors is estimated to be $US33billion. These costs – plus the enormous expense involved in the storage of radioactive waste for a quarter of a million years – are not now included in the economic assessments of nuclear electricity.”

    The costs of radioactive waste disposal are payed for by the nuclear industry – and ultimately, by the customers using nuclear generated electricity – via the nuclear waste fund, which the industry pays into. The same goes for decommissioning – it’s paid for, in terms of a fraction of a dollar for every kilowatt-hour the nuclear power reactor generates over its lifetime.

    “It is said that nuclear power is “clean”. The truth is very different. In the US, where much of the world’s uranium is enriched, including Australia’s, the enrichment facility at Paducah, Kentucky, requires the electrical output of two 1000-megawatt coal-fired plants, which emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for 50per cent of global warming. Also, this enrichment facility and another at Portsmouth, Ohio, release from leaky pipes 93per cent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas emitted yearly in the US. The production and release of CFC gas is now banned internationally by the Montreal Protocol because it is the main culprit responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion. But CFC is also a global warmer, 10,000 to 20,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, the nuclear fuel cycle utilises large quantities of fossil fuel at all of its stages – the mining and milling of uranium, the construction of the nuclear reactor and cooling towers, robotic decommissioning of the intensely radioactive reactor at the end of its 20 to 40-year operating lifetime, and transportation and long-term storage of massive quantities of radioactive waste. In summary, nuclear power produces, according to a 2004 study by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, only three times fewer greenhouse gases than modern natural-gas power stations.”

    I’m not even going to bother refuting Helen Caldicott’s ludicrous, nonsensical rubbish.

    Please read the following document:

    http://www.csse.unimelb.edu.au/~lweston/nuclear.pdf

    You’ll find the above nonsense thoroughly refuted there.

    I could keep going, if you’d like.


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