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Nuclear Power: Too Expensive, Too Risky

John LaForge

Lofty claims about the benefits of nuclear power are coming from the Nuclear Energy Institute and others.

Meanwhile, news, financial and energy journals make clear that boiling water with uranium is the costliest and dirtiest energy choice. Even Time magazine reported Dec. 31, 2008, “It turns out that new (reactors) would be not just extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive.”

Florida Power and Light’s recent estimate for a 2-reactor system is a shocking $12 to $18 billion. The Wall St. Journal reported on nuclear’s prospects May 12, 2008 finding, “[T]he projected cost is causing some sticker shock ... double to quadruple earlier rough estimates. These estimates never include the costs of moving and managing radioactive waste — a bill that keeps coming for centuries.

Radioactive tritium has poisoned groundwater near at least 14 U.S. reactors, including Kewaunee in Wisconsin. Water under Braidwood, Dresden, Brookhaven, Palo Verde, Indian Point, Diablo Canyon, San Onofre and Kewaunee is all contaminated at levels above EPA and NRC standards.

Nuclear power is so clean that Germany legislated a phase-out of its 17 reactors by 2025. Germany’s 1998 decision was based partly on government studies that found high rates of childhood leukemia in areas near its reactors. In July 2007, the European Journal of Cancer Care published a similar report by Dr. Peter Baker of the Medical Univ. of South Carolina that found elevated leukemia incidence in children near U.S. reactors.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., attacked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2005, writing “The nuclear industry and the NRC have automatically dismissed all studies that link increased cancer risk to exposure to low levels of radiation. The NRC needs to study — not summarily dismiss — the connection between serious health risks and radiation released from nuclear reactors.”

The New York Times reported five years ago that owners of nearly half the reactors in the U.S. “are not reserving enough money to decommission them on retirement, according to Congressional auditors, who also say the NRC is not tracking the money carefully.”

In its July 2007 study “Too Hot to Handle,” the Oxford Research Group calls the hope of quickly building new reactors a “pipe dream.” Dr. Arjun Makhijani, the president of the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research, says in his book, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, “Even the leaders of the nuclear industry have said that they will not build new plants without 100 percent federal loan guarantees.”

In his 2008 report “The Flawed Economics of Nuclear Power,” Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, concludes, “While little private capital is going into nuclear power, investors are pouring tens of billions of dollars into wind farms each year.

And while the world’s nuclear generating capacity is estimated to expand by only 1,000 megawatts this year, wind generating capacity will likely grow by 30,000 megawatts.”

The Washington Post reported Nov. 24 that “leading environmental figures, including former Vice President Al Gore, remain skeptical of nuclear’s promise,” because of the high cost of building and the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. Indeed, but leading security and big business figures are skeptical for the same reasons.

The federal Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has called for halting subsidies that promote nuclear power’s expansion.

In the commission’s Oct. 21 report “The Clock Is Ticking,” recommendation No. 3 is, “The U.S. should work internationally toward strengthening the non-proliferation regime ... discouraging, to the extent possible, the use of financial incentives in the promotion of civil nuclear power.”
And no less than Jeffrey Immelt, current CEO of General Electric — one of the world’s richest nuclear engineering firms — discourages new reactor construction because of financial liabilities.

In the Nov. 18, 2007 London Financial Times, he says, “If you were a utility CEO and looked at your world today, you would just do gas and wind. You would say (they are) easier to site, digestible today and I don’t have to bet my company on any of this stuff. You would never do nuclear. The economics are overwhelming.”

The plague of radiation-induced illness is overwhelming too. Let’s re-write the milk add: Got cancer?

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

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