Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Opting for a safe, secure energy future

Blethen News
Joan Saxe and Peter Wilk, M.D.
August 8, 2006

A July 18 Press Herald editorial titled, "Make more nuke plants, fuel storage site top priorities," minimizes the inevitable human health, environmental and economic costs of that approach and overlooks grave dangers to our national security.

Because of those risks and costs, no mainstream environmental organization has softened its stance on nukes. Rather, a few individuals who can claim some environmental affiliation in their history have been hard at work trying to create that false impression.

n Declaring nuclear power to be a safe, economical solution to global warming is easy to say. It is also dangerous misinformation. In reality, generating electricity from nuclear sources faces at least four insurmountable problems: the production of highly hazardous radioactive waste, the threat of terrorism, a prohibitively high cost and the possibility of accidents.

Describing the nuclear waste problem as a political problem completely misses the mark. Development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository has been stalled by scientific controversy and faulty engineering.

The Yucca Mountain site simply does not meet the Department of Energy's own standards. Efforts to lower those standards to allow the project to go forward would put the public's health at risk for thousands of years.

The alternative solution now being promoted by the federal government is even worse. They want to build a huge new industrial complex with sites all over the country to reprocess the tens of thousands of tons of high level nuclear waste being generated. Potentially, every state with a nuclear power plant would be compelled to house some component of this "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership."

n What would this reprocessing of nuclear waste produce? More highly toxic waste and huge quantities of plutonium. If the proponents of GNEP have their way, over the next hundred years the global stockpile of plutonium would be tripled, making it just that much easier for other countries and terrorists to build nuclear weapons.

Essentially, GNEP would become a nuclear proliferation promotion program.

We cannot yet safely solve our nuclear waste problem by burying it. And the dream of reprocessing our nuclear waste and using it as new nuclear fuel for a new generation of a new kind of nuclear power plants is a dangerous fantasy.

n Promoting nuclear power is expensive. A study by MIT has shown that in order for nuclear power to have any real affect on global warming, it would require construction of at least 1,000 new reactors worldwide, costing trillions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the DOE's Energy Information Administration stated in its 2005 Annual Energy Outlook that "new (nuclear) plants are not expected to be economical." Rather than spending billions of dollars in new taxpayer subsidies that would be needed for the nuclear industry, doesn't it make more sense to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy?

n What about the risk of accidents? Three Mile Island. Chernobyl. Our memories seem to be short. The next accident may well be even worse.

Here's the bottom line. It is profoundly misleading to frame the question as a choice between steadily worsening global warming versus expanding nuclear power and going ahead with the faulty Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository or embarking on the dangerous GNEP scheme.

Nuclear power, Yucca Mountain and GNEP are all fundamentally and deeply flawed approaches.

Gov. Baldacci and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have expressed skepticism about the GENP proposal. In order to protect our health, our environment, our pocket books, and our national security, they would be wise to also oppose the administration's efforts to subsidize and revitalize our nuclear industry.

We must take no further steps down this treacherous nuclear path. America can meet its energy needs through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other responsible additions to supply. Every dollar invested in renewables and efficiency will make America more secure.

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