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The Lindberg Report Podcast: Will We Continue to Dirty Our Nest With Nuclear?

kennecott-open-pit.jpgA long time ago, I heard, or read, that the human animal is the only creature on earth that’s content with living in it’s own waste. The analogy being that most animals choose to leave their waste products somewhere outside their nests. Our nest is this beautiful, blue marble, maybe the only one of its kind, and we’ve treated it with careless disrespect.

I’ve created a podcast from this material. If you’d rather listen, the link is here: nuclear-jan-10.mp3

Looking at the current mess we have with nuclear waste, landscapes scarred with huge open-pit mines and tons of unprotected waste from those operations, greenhouse gasses and pollution of our waters, to name a few, I think the old saying is correct.

We seem hell-bent on creating a radioactive society, betting that human frailty and the failure of “modern technology” will never become an issue with respect to radioactive contamination of our environment. All for a flawed concept that touts nuclear energy as “clean”. It isn’t.
Now, our friends across the “pond” in the UK, are up in arms about a proposal made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He wants to replace England’s aging nuclear power facilities with 10 new ones, and that’s brought out the critics.

Chief among them is Greenpeace UK, with “The Case Against Nuclear Power” a pdf file available on the site. This is a thorough look at how the British Government has, “understated the real risks to the taxpayer and the lack of clarity on economics”. I suggest a look at the Greenpeace front page too, for their solutions to tackling climate change and energy security in the UK.

Meanwhile, let me refer you to Pem Charnley’s article, “Unbelievable UK Nuclear Decision“, an incisive look at the furor growing in the UK with some excellent links to UK media sources.

I commented on one researcher’s view that “Nuclear Energy is Clean; Renewables Damage the Ecology“, claiming that implementation of renewable fuel options is a “rape of the land”. Go to Google and put in a request for images of open pit mines, or more specifically, open pit uranium mines. Look at the picture that accompanies this article, it was taken by Kennecott at it’s Wyoming Sweetwater Pit in 1980. To give you some perspective on how large this hole is, the brown specks at the bottom of the image are not fly specks, but the huge trucks that haul ore from the pit to the mill. To me, that’s a “rape” of the land.

One of the major issues about nuclear power is, of course, waste management, my favorite subject.

Here’s a quote from the World Nuclear Association, and their take on waste management:

  • Nuclear power is the only energy-producing technology which takes full responsibility for all its wastes and fully costs this into the product.
  • The amount of radioactive wastes is very small relative to wastes produced by fossil fuel electricity generation.
  • Used nuclear fuel may be treated as a resource or simply as a waste.
  • The radioactivity of all nuclear wastes diminishes with time.
  • Safe methods for the final disposal of high-level waste are technically proven; the international consensus is that this should be deep geological disposal.

Doesn’t that just make you want to stand up and cheer? You might want to look at another of their pages, World Uranium Mining. While obviously biased, there is a great deal of good information on this site.

Let me take their points to task, in order…

  • Ask the Native American nations in the Four Corners area, or in the Dakotas how well the nuclear industry has taken care of it’s mine waste. You might want to access the Southwest Research and Information Center’s pages, and see how they’ve been dealing with uranium mining and resultant waste left on tribal lands. It’s just one of many indications that the nuclear industry is not living up to it’s promises.
  • According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear power generation facilities alone produce about 261,590 cubic yards of Low and Intermediate Level Waste (LILW) and 13,079 cubic yards of High Level Waste (HLW) each year worldwide. We’ve been creating this waste for about 50 years now. Do the math.
  • What an understatement! Some nuclear waste is being recycled, but it’s not a 100% deal, there’s still plenty of waste after the process. I love this statement, “treated as a resource or simply as a waste”. Oh, if it were only that “simple”.
  • Half life of LILW waste degrades in a period of about 30 years or more, while HLW will take millennia to degrade, tens of thousands of years and maybe more depending on the material. So why should we worry, our lives are short by comparison, so why not “go with the flow”, take the money and run? Let future generations worry about this stuff buried in their back yards, or sitting in rusting cannisters. That is, if there will be humans that far into the future. On the other hand, by then, they may have come up a solution to safe waste disposal. Let’s hope so.
  • Yes, deep geological disposal is the answer, but there is no such repository, and the way it’s going at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, maybe not for a very long time, if at all. So we’re stuck with HLW sitting in sometimes rusting cannisters in an uncovered lot, or submerged in several feet of water at nuclear power plants around the world.

While on the subject of storage, a brief note on security. Those cannisters sitting in open lots are prime targets for someone with high explosives and a way to gain access to the property. They could send up a radioactive cloud over populated areas with one blast. No, it won’t trigger a nuclear explosion, but highly radioactive dust will be released into the air. And I’ll call your attention to an earlier article, “Video of Sleeping Nuclear Station Guards“. Call me Chicken Little, that’s ok, it’s just that throughout my life I’ve been witness to things that “should never have happened”. We can’t be too careful, especially in this age of terrorism.

The cost of building nuclear power plants is staggering, a 1,250-megawatt unit would cost about $5.5 billion. Building new plants to replace old ones begs the question, what to do with the old ones? Decommission, of course, but that’s every bit as costly, and where do you put the old infrastructure that’s been contaminated by years of exposure to radiation? Probably in a deep pit somewhere, if there is one. If you think I’ve given you a lot to read, that’s the whole idea, I can’t possibly begin to cover all the areas of this very complex industry, and besides, I like the idea of going beyond one person’s opinion and looking at facts presented by other sources.

I do have in the works, a series on the nuclear industry, beginning with mining through waste and possible storage. It will be ready soon, there’s so much research to be done and every time I seem to answer a question, five more spring up.

If you’ve wondered why I’m so adamant about nuclear power and radiation, this goes back 60 years to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The damage left by those two atom bombs was hard to believe, but what made a lasting impression on me was the damage done to the human body. Pictures of Japanese citizens burned by radiation convinced me that dealing with high level radiation is a danger not only to our species, but all species on earth.

And let’s not forget Chernobyl, and the thousands of people who had to move from their homes, maybe forever, and those who died and are still dying from radiation sickness.

I’d also like to recommend two recent articles on this subject by Shirley Siluk Gregory:
Is Nuclear Power the Answer to Climate Change?

Critics Call U.K. Nuclear Power Plans ‘Misleading’

Can we stop the proliferation of more uranium mines and nuclear power stations, not only here in America but around the world? What are the answers, what can we, as citizens of the world do, and are we even willing to get that upset?




4 comments
  1. Pem

    The cost to the tax payer is astronomical, the cost to the planet is astronomical.

    Certainly, here in the UK, I am rendered speechless by the lack of investment into renewable resources such as wind and tidal power.

    Here is an island constantly buffeted by the wind and which has powerful tidal movements swirling around, yet nuclear energy is what the government has decided to invest in …

  2. Derek

    I agree that Nuclear power shouldn’t be looked at as the be-all end-all of our energy and pollution problems in the US and the world. That said, I would *hardly* classify anything that’s happening now as a “rush” to nuclear power.

    The fact is, of course, that nuclear power has it’s problems but also that it’s here. Now. It’s comparatively clean (compared to coal and oil) and there are no barriers to entry for the every day consumer outside of “Where are we going to build this plant?”

    Nuclear plant safety is much improved. I see no reason to not pursue Nuclear power. Frankly, what are the alternatives, and how far off are they? And what are THEIR lasting effects on our environment when I’m done with them?

  3. Shirley Siluk Gregory

    Good article, Max! You’ve definitely given me plenty of reading material — and food for thought — for the near future.

    Support for nuclear power in some segments certainly seems to be steamrolling. The renowned British scientist James Lovelock says nuclear energy is the only near-term energy solution that will help us curb climate change before it becomes a threat to civilization. He makes a, to me, surprisingly, strong case for that in his latest book, “The Revenge of Gaia.”

    Despite his arguments, though, I — like you — am still deeply concerned about a rush toward nuclear power. It just seems to leave open too many “what-if” concerns.

    What’s the answer? I think one basic thing we, as ordinary citizens, can do is reduce our own energy consumption as much as possible now, rather than wait for disastrous climate change, peak oil or some other crisis. That means not just compact fluorescent lightbulbs and Energy Star-rated appliances, but taking ourselves off the grid as much as possible. Install solar panels on your house if you can afford them. Switch to a utility that generates electricity from renewable sources. Line-dry your clothes. Take advantage of passive solar for indoor lighting and water heating. Make yourself a part of the solution.

    Of course, that doesn’t solve the bigger problem you’re addressing, but it’s a start. Beyond that, having enlightened discussions like this can help us find other ways to move in the right direction, energy-wise.

    I’ll end this comment with a provocative link on the role of nuclear power in the fight against climate change … just to mix things up a bit!

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