Power Is The Problem,
Not A Solution
(Chernobyl Worldwide Nuclear Fallout May 12, 1986)
is a huge propaganda push by the nuclear industry to justify
nuclear power as a panacea for the reduction of global-warming
Leslie Kemeny on these pages two weeks ago (HES, March 30) suggested
that courses on nuclear science and engineering be included
in tertiary level institutions in Australia.
But I would suggest that all the relevant facts be taught to
students. Mandatory courses in medical schools should embrace
the short and long-term biological, genetic and medical dangers
associated with the nuclear fuel cycle. Business students should
examine the true costs associated with the production of nuclear
power. Engineering students should become familiar with the
profound problems associated with the storage of long-lived
radioactive waste, the human fallibilities that have created
the most serious nuclear accidents in history and the ongoing
history of near-misses and near-meltdowns in the industry.
there are 442 nuclear reactors in operation around the world.
If, as the nuclear industry suggests, nuclear power were to
replace fossil fuels on a large scale, it would be necessary
to build 2000 large, 1000-megawatt reactors. Considering that
no new nuclear plant has been ordered in the US since 1978,
this proposal is less than practical. Furthermore, even if we
decided today to replace all fossil-fuel-generated electricity
with nuclear power, there would only be enough economically
viable uranium to fuel the reactors for three to four years.
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.
said that nuclear power is emission-free. The truth is very
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. This is not so.
unregulated isotopes include the noble gases krypton, xenon
and argon, which are fat-soluble and if inhaled by persons living
near a nuclear reactor, are absorbed through the lungs, migrating
to the fatty tissues of the body, including the abdominal fat
pad and upper thighs, near the reproductive organs. These radioactive
elements, which emit high-energy gamma radiation, can mutate
the genes in the eggs and sperm and cause genetic disease.
is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen composed of two neutrons
and one proton with an atomic weight of 3. The chemical symbol
for tritium is H3. When one or both of the hydrogen atoms in
water is displaced by tritium the water molecule is then called
tritiated water. Tritium is a soft energy beta emitter, more
mutagenic than gamma radiation, that incorporates directly into
the DNA molecule of the gene. Its half life is 12.3 years, giving
it a biologically active life of 246 years.
subject of massive quantities of radioactive waste accruing
at the 442 nuclear reactors across the world is also rarely,
if ever, addressed by the nuclear industry. Each typical 1000-megawatt
nuclear reactor manufactures 33tonnes of thermally hot, intensely
radioactive waste per year.
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 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.
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. Last week 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.
matters worse, a study released last week 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.
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
time for cancer is five to 50 years following exposure to radiation.
It is important to note that children, old people and immuno-compromised
individuals are many times more sensitive to the malignant effects
of radiation than other people.
describe four of the most dangerous elements made in nuclear
131, which was released at the nuclear accidents at Sellafield
in Britain, Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the
US, is radioactive for only six weeks and it bio-concentrates
in leafy vegetables and milk. When it enters the human body
via the gut and the lung, it migrates to the thyroid gland in
the neck, where it can later induce thyroid cancer. In Belarus
more than 2000 children have had their thyroids removed for
thyroid cancer, a situation never before recorded in pediatric
90 lasts for 600 years. As a calcium analogue, it concentrates
in cow and goat milk. It accumulates in the human breast during
lactation, and in bone, where it can later induce breast cancer,
bone cancer and leukemia.
137, which also lasts for 600 years, concentrates in the food
chain, particularly meat. On entering the human body, it locates
in muscle, where it can induce a malignant muscle cancer called
239, one of the most dangerous elements known to humans, is
so toxic that one-millionth of a gram is carcinogenic. More
than 200kg is made annually in each 1000-megawatt nuclear power
plant. Plutonium is handled like iron in the body, and is therefore
stored in the liver, where it causes liver cancer, and in the
bone, where it can induce bone cancer and blood malignancies.
On inhalation it causes lung cancer. It also crosses the placenta,
where, like the drug thalidomide, it can cause severe congenital
deformities. Plutonium has a predisposition for the testicle,
where it can cause testicular cancer and induce genetic diseases
in future generations. Plutonium lasts for 500,000 years, living
on to induce cancer and genetic diseases in future generations
of plants, animals and humans.
is also the fuel for nuclear weapons -- only 5kg is necessary
to make a bomb and each reactor makes more than 200kg per year.
Therefore any country with a nuclear power plant can theoretically
manufacture 40 bombs a year.
nuclear power leaves a toxic legacy to all future generations,
because it produces global warming gases, because it is far
more expensive than any other form of electricity generation,
and because it can trigger proliferation of nuclear weapons,
these topics need urgently to be introduced into the tertiary
educational system of Australia, which is host to 30 per cent
to 40 per cent of the world's richest uranium.
Caldicott is an anti-nuclear campaigner and founder and president
of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, which warns of the
danger of nuclear energy.