Mar
06
    
Same As It Ever Was by Paul Gunter

Same As It Ever Was

Paul Gunter

The same threats and boondoggles that mobilized the Clamshell Alliance and an anti-nuclear movement around the world in the 1970’s are only more apparent today.

Nuclear power presents more problems than solutions to global warming

The history of nuclear power over the past 50 years is marked by nuclear accidents and an increasing number of near misses. More reactors bring greater risk from catastrophic events both manmade and natural.  The atomic industry is still plagued by problems regarding the environment, public safety, community health and a mounting financial fiasco. It is extremely dangerous to return to a 20th Century technological failure disguised as a solution to the global climate crisis.  Because of this historic failure we cannot collectively risk civilization by squandering resources and precious little time on this dangerous, polluting and unpredictably expensive technology.

From the first days of the Bush Administration’s secret meetings with the hegemony of coal, oil and nuclear, the goal is to collectively increase corporate fortunes–not displace them.  Now new atomic power plants are being proposed to increase fossil fuel production from the dirty oil rush on the vast Canadian tar sands to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to expand petroleum exports and climate threatening carbon emissions.

While the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) waves the “Clean Air Energy” banner its member electric power companies remain deeply committed to both mountain top removal for coal and the fission of more uranium.  Take for example the fact that NEI was formerly chaired by Anthony Early, Jr., the CEO for DTE Energy, a North American leader in coal marketing and transportation. 

Accidents happen

The “bathtub curve” is a basic engineering principle for product failure rates. Electric toasters and nuclear power plants have high rates of failure during the “break-in phase” of new untested designs. Failures are caused by a range of events including defective designs, substandard materials and faulty construction.  Three Mile Island commercially operated only three months before it melted down on March 28, 1979. Chernobyl’s catastrophic accident on April 26, 1986 occurred after only two years of operation. Following this early failure period, product failure rates level off with time into the “intrinsic failure period.” If the appliance is in use for a long period, inevitably the “wear out failure period” marks a sharp rise in component failure due to aging and degradation. The discovery of severe corrosion in February 2002 at Ohio’s Davis-Besse nuclear power station is a clear indicator of the nuclear industry’s entry into this final phase of increasing risk from “breakdown” accidents. When the bathtub curve is superimposed over current circumstances we are faced with the double threat of an atomic power industry poised to ramp up new construction with untested designs at the same time the world’s fleet of 445 nuclear power stations is aging toward that individual break point.

The potential consequences of a nuclear accident are so great that the private insurance industry has written in a nuclear exclusion clause in their policies. Governments have stepped in with limited liability protection for operators and manufacturers. The Price-Anderson Act which was extended in 2005 to shelter even the “inherently safe” designs under a liability cap of $10 billion, a small fraction of the potential costs. The demonstrated consequences of a catastrophic accident and fire at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine are more than an order of magnitude greater. The April 2006 commemorative issue of National Geographic magazine cites the growing public health and economic costs to be in the “hundreds of billions of dollars.”[i]

Nuclear power means more nuclear waste forever

After more than fifty years of commercial operation there is still no scientifically approved long-term management facility for high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world. 

Currently 55,000 metric tons of extremely radioactive used fuel sits at reactor sites around the United States in over packed and vulnerable storage ponds and in openly congregated dry casks storage silos.  The only deep geological site currently under federal review in the US is the earthquake prone Yucca Mountain, Nevada that sits amid young volcano fields.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2003 report “The Future of Nuclear Power” has projected that a proposed increase of 1500 new reactors worldwide would require the equivalent of one new Yucca Mt. every three to four years[ii].

Nuclear power destabilizes world peace

 As the old bumper sticker proclaimed “The Peaceful Atom is a Bomb,” the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industries are inextricably linked.

History demonstrates that the easiest way to make a bomb is to build a nuclear power infrastructure around it–as India developed its reactor program and its nuclear weapons arsenal. The same professionals and technicians involved in designing and building nuclear reactors have many of the skill sets needed to build an atomic bomb production line. By simply repeating the fuel-grade uranium enrichment process uranium can be concentrated into weapons-grade material.  Sprawling enrichment facilities are no longer needed that make nuclear weapons production detectable. The more compact centrifugal enrichment process now makes a clandestine nuclear weapon program easier.

With thirty-three countries currently using nuclear power, a burgeoning number of new countries worldwide are seeking to make nuclear materials with the “Peaceful Atom” including the military regime of Burma. Thirteen of those countries are in the Middle East including Israel, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.[iii]

With the technological spread of nuclear power there is likely to be an increase in pre-emptive attacks against reactor construction sites as the Israeli air strike on the Osirak reactor Iraq in June 1981 and the September 2007 bombing of Syria’s covert nuclear project. Nuclear power not only threatens the increased risk of nuclear war but also widening regional conflicts. Atomic power plants themselves are vulnerable pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction sitting amid major population centers around the world.

Nuclear power is a growing threat to civil liberties

NRC rules already truncate public proceedings for combined construction and operating licensing by stripping sited communities of due process in order to expedite hearings and shield industry financing. States and communities are denied fundamental principals such as the direct cross-examination of government and industry expert witnesses on application environmental, safety and security claims. The Commission has issued blanket Orders denying communities and states intervention on all matters pertaining to nuclear security issues.[iv] This policy closes the door on many challenges including potential vulnerabilities in reactor designs and sites as well as the right to discover the radiological consequences of a successful attack. 

Secrecy, surveillance and the potential use of deadly force surround inherently dangerous nukes. The federal pursuit of national sacrifice areas for the growing inventories of atomic waste threatens long-held native treaties, states’ rights and local home rule. Confiscation of private property by federal eminent domain for tens of thousands of surface acres for repository construction results in imposed buyouts, the taking of state water rights and mass population relocations.


[i] http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0604/sights_n_sounds/index.html

[ii] http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/

[iii] http://www.ans.org/pubs/magazines/nn/docs/2007-6-2.pdf

[iv] http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/security/secnrcorder12172002pfs.pdf

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