WASHINGTON - April 24 - Twenty years ago, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear station in the Ukraine served as a catastrophic reminder of the dangers of nuclear power. More than 400,000 people in the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were evacuated, according to government estimates, and several million people were exposed to significant levels of radioactive fallout. About 25,000 of the 600,000 emergency responders have since died as a result of radiation exposure. The contamination has rendered 4,440 square kilometers of agricultural land and 6,820 square kilometers of forests in Belarus and the Ukraine unusable. People, especially children, throughout the Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, as well as Western Europe, are still suffering from the health effects of this disaster.
Despite its dangers, nuclear power has received renewed attention recently and is now being touted as a way to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming. With the support of the Bush administration and $13 billion in taxpayer subsidies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, nuclear utilities are proposing to build new nuclear reactors at more than a dozen sites across the United States. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, it would create large quantities of nuclear waste, which the nuclear industry still has not figured out how to dispose of. Second, it would make communities throughout the country newly vulnerable to nuclear accidents. Third, it would encourage nuclear weapons proliferation by generating large amounts of plutonium, which would be vulnerable to theft or diversion. Moreover, because of high capital costs, a lengthy construction process and polluting waste, new nuclear reactors are one of the least effective options for reducing carbon emissions.
Renewable energy – which includes solar, wind, advanced hydro, certain types of biomass and geothermal energy – can be harnessed more quickly and cheaply, and without significant carbon emissions, destructive mining or radioactive waste. According to a new analysis by Public Citizen based on the work of governments, universities and other organizations in the United States, Europe and Japan, a diverse mix of existing renewable technologies can meet U.S. energy needs over the coming decades.
Twenty years after the Chernobyl disaster, the risks of nuclear power are all the more evident. The United States should leave nuclear technology behind and immediately and comprehensively embrace renewable energy.