Question: “In a speech in June, President Bush said the United States needs new nuclear plants to meet the nation’s demand for electricity. Are nuclear plants the answer to energy needs?”
Just Say No to the Nuclear Power Relapse
by Kevin Kamps
The U.S. needs to just say no to the nuclear power relapse. Reactors are potentially catastrophic terrorist targets in terms of the huge quantities of deadly radioactivity they could release if successfully attacked. Reactors across our country represent pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction for our enemies.
But it needn’t take an attack for this to occur, because reactors are also vulnerable to accidents, especially aging facilities whose safety systems have deteriorated, but also new ones in which the bugs have not been worked out yet. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl meltdowns both involved new reactors. But it also doesn’t take an accident, because reactors release harmful radiation at every stage of the nuclear fuel chain – including daily reactor operations – into the air, water and soil. A recent National Academy of Sciences report reaffirmed, as had already been stated for decades, that any radiation dose, not matter how small, can cause cancer and other diseases.
Nuclear power cannot solve global warming, because it is much too expensive and would take far too much time to make a difference. The last reactor built in the U.S. cost a whopping $7 billion and took 23 years to construct. Energy efficiency measures are seven times more cost-effective than nuclear power at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We can either address the climate crisis, or we can build new reactors, but we can’t do both.
Radioactive waste is the issue Nevadans should care about most, because of Yucca Mountain. Electricity is but the fleeting byproduct of nuclear power. The actual product is forever-deadly radioactive waste. The more reactors there are, the more high-level radioactive waste will be generated, and the more pressure there will be to dump it all at Yucca Mountain. Tens of thousands of waste shipments by truck and train would travel through Nevada, each one a “Mobile Chernobyl” or “dirty bomb on wheels,” vulnerable to accident or attack as it rolls within a quarter mile of the Las Vegas Strip, each carrying from 40 to 240 times the long-lasting radioactivity released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Release of even a fraction of the contents of a single container would spell unprecedented catastrophe. Even the threat of these shipments is enough to lower property values. Because it would make Yucca more likely than ever, new reactors and the wastes they’d generate would spell real trouble for Nevada’s economic future.
Nuclear Power Will Meet Future Energy Needs
by Angelina Howard
In the years ahead, America is going to need as much new electricity production as possible from all sources. Even with greater efficiency and conservation, we will still need 30 percent more power-generating capacity over the next 20 years, according to our nation’s Energy Information Administration.
To meet this need, America will have to rely upon diverse energy resources, because no single source of electricity will be able to accomplish this goal alone. Nuclear energy produces 20 percent of the electricity generated in the country and 10 percent of Nevada’s power, thanks to imports from Arizona and California. To match this production nationally, wind turbines would have to cover a land mass the size of Wisconsin, and solar cells would require land equaling the state of West Virginia.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 will assist the nation in addressing this growing energy demand. Among an array of electricity production incentives, the bill includes limited incentives designed to jump-start the construction of next-generation nuclear plants – the future workhorses of electricity production in this country.
The overwhelmingly bipartisan support in Congress for this new expansion in nuclear power is a result of the industry’s excellent record of safety, efficiency, reliability and security over the last decade.
Environmental organizations like the Pew Center for Climate Change and World Resources Institute are among those who support the expansion of nuclear power, which provides more than 70 percent of the electricity from emission-free sources. The federal government’s pursuit of a geologic repository to manage used nuclear fuel is a multi-billion dollar project that holds great potential for Nevada in terms of job creation, economic development and other federal investment in the state. The selection of Yucca Mountain for the planned repository is backed by 20 years of science. Its design and operation, including the ability to monitor and retrieve its contents, will have the public health and safety of Nevada residents as its top priority. And, if approved, the project will be a state-of-the-art facility that could serve as a cornerstone of research and development in advanced nuclear fuel recycling and treatment options.
As one component of a diverse energy supply system, safe, clean and affordable nuclear power must play a pivotal role in meeting the country’s future energy needs.