Experts: "Clean" Energy Standard Should Not Include Nuclear, Coal

For Immediate Release

Experts: "Clean" Energy Standard Should Not Include Nuclear, Coal

So-Called “Clean Energy Standard” Highlighted in Obama State of the Union Speech, But Huge Health, Environmental Costs Associated With Nuclear, Coal.

WASHINGTON - If Congress and the White House intend to move forward with a "clean
energy standard" (CES), it will be a huge contradiction to include
nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants, according to three
experts.

In the wake of President Obama's State of the Union
address embracing CES, the experts pointed to a long list of unresolved
waste, water and proliferation risks associated with nuclear power, and
unresolved problems with commercially untested "carbon capture &
storage" (CCS) for coal-fired power production.

Dr. Alan
Lockwood, professor of nuclear medicine and neurology, University of
Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, and past president of Physicians for Social
Responsibility, said: "We must guarantee that policy decisions
we make are based on the full range of health and environmental impacts
of our decisions as we devote scarce private and public resources to
meeting our needs for electric power. For example, coal proponents claim
that new technologies can turn coal into a source of clean energy. Yet
the technology they urge us to adopt is totally unproven at commercial
scale and over a meaningful time frame. In any case, coal plants under
consideration with carbon capture and storage would still rely on
outdated, dirty energy technologies of the past. Making matters even
worse, virtually none of the pending coal plant proposals in the U.S.
include any plans to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from day
one of operation. If built, these old-style coal plants, with a
lifespan in excess of 50 years, would gravely diminish the prospects of
slowing global warming, while exacerbating air pollution-related disease
and death."

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said:
"The principle of clean energy sources should be that the main
environmental burdens should be borne by the generation that uses the
energy. Some of the largest environmental and health impacts of nuclear
energy and coal will be borne by generations far into the future. These
impacts cannot be internalized by spending more money, as they are
inherent in the technology. In contrast, the modest impacts of renewable
energy are borne by the generations that use the energy, so that future
generations can replace the facilities with better techniques as they
are developed."

Scott Sklar, president, The Stella Group
Ltd., adjunct professor at George Washington University, chairman of
the steering committee, Sustainable Energy Coalition, and former
executive director, Solar Energy and Biomass Industries Associations,
said: "Excuse me, but how is coal clean? Even if you could
sequester carbon, it emits mercury, carcinogens, requires much water,
emits other greenhouse gases, leaves us with coal ash waste piles, and
drives the blowing-up of our mountain tops ruining waterways and
farmland. Nuclear energy, with its multi-thousand year wastes, imported
uranium, and susceptibility to terrorism. Do we believe that the
technology terrorists employ is stagnant, even though experts in 2010
were able to cyber-penetrate a nuclear plant? Attempts to foster coal
and nuclear into a CES is another ploy to re-label non-renewable
technologies and ooze them into a "clean" brand. This reminds me how the
high fructose corn syrup industry has recently relabeled itself the
"corn sugar" industry."

NUCLEAR AND COAL: HOW UNCLEAN?

The experts cited the following concerns about relying on nuclear power:

  • Long-lived Radioactive Waste: From mill tailing and
    mine wastes to spent fuel, there is no good solution to the very
    long-lived radioactive wastes that are created by the use of nuclear
    energy. Contrary to popular belief, the amounts are very large. In the
    United States alone, there are hundreds of millions of tons of
    long-lived mining and milling wastes, even though the United States now
    imports most of its uranium requirements. Nuclear energy mobilizes large
    amounts of radioactivity, including radium and thorium at mining and
    milling sites that will last for eons, creates huge amounts of very
    long-lived main-made radionuclides, like plutonium-239 and iodine-129.
    The half life of the iodine-129 is about 16 million years.
  • No Spent Fuel Solution: The much cited number that
    France is recycling 90 or 95 percent of its spent fuel is incorrect.
    France uses no more than 6 percent of the weight of fresh fuel and less
    than 1 percent of the uranium that is mined. Moreover, reprocessing does
    not reduce the need for a geologic repository and the proposed French
    site in Bure faces opposition. French reprocessing operations discharge
    about 100 million liters of liquid radioactive waste into the English
    Channel every year which, together with British reprocessing discharges,
    have contaminated the ocean all the way to the Arctic.
  • Proliferation Risks: The risk of nuclear
    proliferation is inherently associated with nuclear power techno logy.
    There is an enormous overlap between commercial nuclear power and
    nuclear bomb infrastructure (both technical and human). This has been
    recognized by the pioneers of the Manhattan Project, notably Robert
    Oppenheimer (1946), and by the former Director General of the IAEA,
    ElBaradei (2008), who stated that the rush to nuclear power
    infrastructure in some countries was a kind of "deterrence" policy.
    Nuclear proliferation can have the gravest health, environmental, and
    security consequences if it results in the use of nuclear weapons -
    perhaps a small probability, but one that cannot be ignored. This trend
    could become more dangerous if the push for small reactors that can be
    deployed in remote areas and in a much larger number of countries than
    the present large reactors becomes established as a reality. While US
    actions do not assure that others will follow, it is nearly certain that
    if the US defines nuclear as "clean" there will be no way to dissuade
    others from doing so. If nuclear energy becomes a principal part of the
    response to reducing CO2 emissions 2,000 to 3,000 reactors or more of
    1,000 megawatts each would be needed by 2050. This means tens of
    thousands of nuclear bombs equivalent of plutonium would be created in
    these reactors each year. If reprocessing takes hold, the problem of
    fissile materials accounting and proliferation would become even less
    manageable than it is today.
  • Large Water Use: Nuclear power is the largest water
    consumer among all energy technologies. Reactors in the United States
    and in Europe have had to shut down during heat waves, when electricity
    demand is highest. In many places, this problem will be aggravated by
    melting glaciers, and extremes of weather that are estimated to be a
    part of climate disruption.

For more information on nuclear power, see http://www.ieer.org and http://www.NuclearBailout.org.

Noting
that no large-scale commercial CCS operation yet exists, the experts
highlighted the following problems with so-called "clean coal" solutions
and ongoing reliance on old-fashioned coal-fired power plants:

  • Public Health Risks of CCS: The most obvious
    threats to health posed by CCS above would occur in the event of the
    release of large amounts of CO2. Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless
    gas that is heavier than air. It may cause symptoms or death by
    displacing oxygen from inhaled air, leading to hypoxia and asphyxiation,
    or by causing symptomatic or fatal acidification of the blood and body
    fluids after inhalation. Potential accidental releases could occur at
    any of the stages: at the site of CO2 capture, during transport or
    transfer, or during or after sequestration. The sudden release of large
    amounts of CO2 has the potential to cause large-scale death, as occurred
    on August 21, 1986 at Lake Nyos, a lake in a volcanic crater in
    Cameroon. About 1,700 people died when 250,000 metric tons of CO2 gas
    was released from the lake.
  • Coal Mining Pollution: Coal with CCS does not
    address the environmental and public health impacts of mining coal. Coal
    mining leads U.S. industries in fatal injuries and is associated with
    chronic health problems among miners, such as black lung disease, which
    causes permanent scarring of the lung tissues. In addition to the miners
    themselves, communities near coal mines may be adversely affected by
    mining operations due to the effects of blasting, the collapse of
    abandoned mines, and the dispersal of dust from coal trucks. Surface
    mining also destroys forests and groundcover, leading to flood-related
    injury and mortality, as well as soil erosion and the contamination of
    water supplies. Mountaintop removal mining involves blasting down to the
    level of the coal seam and depositing the resulting rubble in adjoining
    valleys, which damages freshwater aquatic ecosystems and the
    surrounding environment by burying streams and headwaters. Coal washing,
    which removes soil and rock impurities before coal is transported to
    power plants, uses polymer chemicals and large quantities of water and
    creates a liquid waste called slurry. Slurry ponds can leak or fail,
    leading to injury and death, and slurry injected underground into old
    mine shafts can release arsenic, barium, lead, and manganese into nearby
    wells, contaminating local water supplies.
  • Air Pollutants: Coal plants are the single largest
    source of sulfur dioxide, mercury and air toxic emissions and the second
    largest source of nitrogen oxide pollution after automobiles. Mercury
    exposure is particularly threatening to fetal and child development. The
    health effects of NOx exposure range from eye, nose and throat
    irritation at low levels of exposure to serious damage to the tissues of
    the upper respiratory tract, fluid build-up in the lungs and death at
    high exposure levels. Moreover, once emitted, these pollutants combine
    to form "secondary pollutants," such as ozone and particulate matter
    that pose an equally significant threat to public health. Ozone
    pollution, also known as smog, is a powerful respiratory irritant that
    can cause coughing and chest pain, and at higher concentrations, can
    lead to more serious effects, including lung tissue damage, asthma
    exacerbation, as well as increased risk of hospitalization for asthma,
    bronchitis and other chronic respiratory diseases.
  • Post-Combustion (Coal Ash) Pollution: The storage
    of post-combustion wastes from coal plants also threatens human health.
    There are 584 coal ash dump sites in the U.S., and toxic residues have
    migrated into water supplies and threatened human health at dozens of
    these sites. In December 2008, an earthen wall holding back a huge coal
    ash disposal pond failed at the coal-fired power plant in Kingston,
    Tennessee. The 40-acre pond spilled more than 1 billion gallons of coal
    ash slurry into the adjacent river valley, covering some 300 acres with
    thick, toxic sludge, destroying three homes, damaging many others and
    contaminating the Emory and Clinch Rivers.

For more information on coal, see http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/psr-coal-fullreport.pdf

###

IEER is a non-profit technical institute that provides the public and policy-makers with thoughtful, clear, and sound scientific and technical studies on a wide range of issues including energy, nuclear waste, and nuclear non-proliferation. For more information, go to http://www.ieer.org.

PSR is the largest physician-led organization in the country articulating both the health risks and threats to human survival posed by nuclear weapons, climate change, nuclear reactors and toxic degradation of the environment. PSR is dedicated to improving national policy formulation and decision-making about security, energy and the environment through the combined efforts of credible, committed health professionals and our active and concerned citizen members. For more information, go to http://www.psr.org.

Share This Article

More in: