The Insanity of Nuclear Energy

No Place to Hide from Nuclear FollyLately it’s difficult to think about anything except the recent horrific events in Japan. My heart goes out to everyone involved. Disasters like the earthquake and tsunami are mostly unavoidable; they are a natural part of our planet’s evolution. The ongoing nuclear disaster is another story.

The world would be quite a different place without modern technology and I enjoy most of it as much as the next guy. But when a technology holds so much potential for severe, long-term damage, we must know when to alter our course. Even without accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, many have known intuitively that nuclear energy is just too risky.

Often wrongly touted as a carbon-free source of energy, it is actually far from it. The life-cycle of nuclear energy production produces tremendous amounts of carbon emissions from plant construction, mining, fuel processing, plant decommissioning and waste handling, including transportation and storage (over both the short-term of decades and long-term of thousands of years). Renewable energy is orders-of-magnitude cleaner and infinitely safer.

Nuclear power technology generates thousands of tons of waste and some of the deadliest substances known to man. It leads to the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons, a dark cloud under which most people have now spent their entire lives. Incredibly, some countries actually use nuclear waste to manufacture depleted uranium shells for use on the battlefield. We’ve distributed thousands of tons of radioactive dust around the globe using these by-products of so-called “safe” nuclear technology and the practice continues. Oh and by the way, it has a half-life of 3.5 billion years.

Dr. Helen Caldicott is one of the world’s leading experts on the dangers of nuclear technology:

Now, as the unknown and unpredictable events at Fukushima unfold, the world faces yet another nuclear disaster. We missed the turn decades ago, but we can still alter course and head for greener pastures.

“Nuclear power, once claimed to be too cheap to meter, is now too costly to matter.”

– The Economist

So what’s a rant about the dangers of nuclear technology doing in the Home section of the newspaper? You and I have the power to change course. So many of us take our energy use for granted with nary a thought about how it is produced or what the real or potential consequences may be. We must take responsibility for the mind-set that has led to Fukushima. It’s time to shift. Whether you can afford a huge power bill is no longer the question. Conspicuous energy consumption is not a right, but a liability. Let us mend our wasteful ways.

Renewable energy and efficiency are common topics in this space. Personal responsibility gets an occasional nod as well. I write about these things because I think it makes a difference. I think we are smart enough and determined enough to do something when the need arises. The effects of climate change are “soft” in the sense that their causes are difficult to pin down. Some find it easy to ignore. Based on what I’m seeing on television, no one ignores the meltdown of a nuclear facility.

So why do otherwise well-informed people still consider nuclear power a key element of a sound climate strategy? Not because that belief can withstand analytic scrutiny. Rather, it seems, because of a superficially attractive story, an immensely powerful and effective lobby, a new generation who forgot or never knew why nuclear power failed previously (almost nothing has changed), sympathetic leaders of nearly all main governments simultaneously, deeply  rooted habits and rules that favor giant power plants over distributed solutions and enlarged supply over efficient use, the market winners’ absence from many official databases (which often count only big plants owned by utilities), and lazy reporting by an unduly credulous press.

Isn’t it time we forgot about nuclear power? Informed capitalists have. Politicians and pundits should too.

Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly?
Amory B. Lovins, Imran Sheikh, and Alex Markevich

So here’s the bottom line. We do not need nuclear energy – plain and simple. Nor do we need to replace it by burning more fossils. Making our homes and businesses more efficient has become good business. Using more locally-produced renewable energy, especially on existing rooftops, has become good business. Have you ever heard of people fleeing a green building? Ever seen a solar panel meltdown or a wind turbine spill? Doesn’t happen.

Some politicians, perhaps misinformed or simply indebted to the industry, are still promoting “safer” nuclear energy even as people in Japan risk dying from it. Huge corporations make insane profits (yes, insane is appropriate here) by designing and building nuclear facilities and then figuring out how to fix them when things go wrong. The ultimate cost is born by you and me, taxpayers who subsidize an industry so dangerous that it is uninsurable.

Every single one of us can do something today to permanently reduce our use of electricity. It will not reduce the quality our lives, but if enough people make a concerted, consistent effort, nuclear energy will simply become unnecessary. I would like to give that gift to the children. It’s my green dream.

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  1. Well said!! I love your articles – they are always so thoughtful and informative – I learn something, often many things, from each one. Regarding Fukushima, a Japanese commentator recently said something like “The US has not built a new nuclear plant in over 30 years. We should learn from that.” Rather, I think the *US* should learn from that! There are many reasons why so many people oppose nuclear plants, and you have addressed several important ones. A favorite quote is (paraphrased) from your talks: “The best nuclear energy is 93 million miles away from Earth – the Sun!” Let’s keep it there.

  2. You are a voice of reason, of long-sightedness and compassion for future generations in a world that is all about “I want, I need, I deserve, I will have more, bigger, faster, better.” This type of entitlement will be the destruction of us all. I hope that your words, and those of others like you, ignite a flame that lights up the world as people’s awareness of the truth grows.

  3. I have seen many of your articles published in the LVRJ, but I think I managed to miss two of your most recent articles. I just looked at both of those.

    I’ve got to tell you- I am really impressed by your website. Not even considering the content, you seem to have a very nice design. This is especially impressive to me if you are doing all of the design and maintenance yourself. I appreciate your writing and content as well.

  4. Glen Standridge says

    I recently read your article on passive houses or building. Very impressive article, I love it.

    I am positive that you have heard that the state of South Carolina is or was suing the Federal Government to force them to reopen Yucca Mtn. South Carolina is planning or is in the process of building four nuclear plants. They don’t seem to need the energy, but the Federal Gov. is financing them through guaranteeing the loans at the lowest possible interest rate.

    Why can’t the people of our United States of America sue the state of South Carolina and put a stop to this insanity?

    Incidentally, if we spent the cost of these nuke plants on Green Energy we would get more energy back for the $’s spent (Total dollars spent, construction, spills, waste cleanup, hauling waste, storage, etc., etc., etc. and the threat of a melt down).

  5. Thanks to each of you for your comments and kind words. The message that we don’t NEED nuclear energy is rarely heard in the mainstream media (but when companies like GE own companies like NBC, what else could one expect?

    I believe our political system is broken. It’s up to each of us to “be the change” and build a sane, sustainable society.