Glib comments don't mean nuclear energy safeSeptember 12,2004
As a Brattleboro resident and college professor teaching energy technologies, I question the glib pronouncements that nuclear energy is "clean, safe and dependable." The public statements from the self-proclaimed pro-business Vermont community led by Gov.
Douglas could not be further from the truth.
Dependable? Uranium is a finite natural resource, just like fossil fuels.
U.S. production of uranium ore peaked in 1980 and has been reduced to a trickle. Today, over 90 percent of the fissionable fuel "burned" in U.S. nuclear plants is imported – be it mined, refined, machined or fabricated in a complex web of operations beyond our borders.
Safe? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission exists simply because nuclear technology is flat-out dangerous. The nuclear industry not only contaminates through accidents, but as a matter of routine operational necessity, it continuously releases chemical, thermal and radioactive pollutants. At the end of the fuel cycle, tens of thousands of tons of intensely hot, radioactive spent fuel rods must be stored, isolated and guarded for thousands of years — a challenge that is emerging as a scientific and physical impossibility.
Clean? The industry touts itself as a "clean" energy alternative to combat global warming. In fact, the energy-intensive nuclear fuel cycle (mining, refining, manufacture, transportation and storage) generates almost as much carbon dioxide as would the burning of fossil fuels directly to replace the nuclear industry's electric output. Uranium enrichment alone is one of the most CO2-intensive industrial operations on the planet. Furthermore, uranium enrichment within the United States uses 93 percent of the refrigerant chlorofluorocarbon gas made in this country. The global production of this gas, as readers may recall, has been banned worldwide as the destroyer of the ozone layer.
It comes as no surprise that the world-class Kyoto scientists rejected nuclear power as a solution to climate change and global warming, ruled it out as a sustainable energy source and denied the industry clean-fuel credits.
If you want technical information, start with www.nirs.org/. For a young Russian woman's personal experience motorcycling through the countryside around Chernobyl, go to elenaschernobyl.com/.
When I drive by Vermont Yankee, I see large nondescript buildings and think about the governor's reassuring language supporting nuclear energy. Both whitewashed structures and words appear so innocuous. Like the tip of an iceberg.
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