By Blueberry Tart
The world is gripped by the multiple disasters that hit
As I mentioned in a comment Friday, a little-known fact about me is that I was one of the 1414 members of the Clamshell Alliance arrested for criminal trespass in 1977 when we occupied the Seabrook,
photo by Eric Roth
Jailing us was also a huge mistake because it gave us the opportunity to do intensive organizing, building the
I admit that life moved on and I had kind of forgotten about this era of my own personal history. Although I continue to support several organizations that work on this issue, my own professional work is in a different field, and “life happened.” But this experience suddenly seems so relevant to the events of recent weeks. Of course, the horrific situation in
But today, I want to focus on WHY I was willing to spend weeks in jail and go on a hunger strike due to my opposition to nuclear power. (I don’t usually do this kind of thing!)
Unfortunately, the biggest reason is all too apparent in
I am also very aware that the nuclear industry is trying to get back on track in the
What’s not to like about nuclear power? In a nutshell, here are the main reasons why I was then, and am now, opposed to nuclear power. Each one of these subjects would warrant its own post, but for now, I will include some relevant links. This Wikipedia piece gives an overview of the safety issues.
1) The health and environmental risks of exposure to radioactivity are severe and endanger both current and future generations. Radioactive substances are carcinogenic (cancer-causing), mutagenic (cause genetic mutations) and teratogenic (affect fetal development). The risks are not only to humans, but also to the environment, where some radioactivity can persist far beyond any timeframe that is subject to human management. Uranium-235 (enriched, weapons grade) has a half-life of 700 million years. Plutonium (Pu-239, half-life 24,800 years) is not only radioactive but also highly toxic and fissile, making its handling fraught with both health, security and environmental perils.
2) Uranium mining and enrichment have serious human, environmental and economic costs that are not adequately accounted for in evaluating the benefits of nuclear power. Worker exposure has been a serious issue, notably for Native Americans and miners in other countries, such as
3) The security and transport of radioactive materials is susceptible to failures and unacceptable risks. Access to weapons grade uranium, for example, is one of the key points of tension with Iran, and the false claim about Saddam Hussein’s efforts to buy yellowcake uranium were at the heart of the rationale for war against Iraq. In recent years, the spectre of the “dirty bomb” has heightened concern about the security of (or lack thereof) radioactive materials. CNN reported on lax security for enough material to make two dirty bombs. Wikileaks highlighted the lack of security for radioactive materials in
4) Even with improved designs and capable engineering, construction and management, reactor safety cannot be 100% assured, and the risks of failure can be catastrophic. This article from the BBC looks at the current situation in
Here is an article on reactor technology that explains some of the different technologies and improvements that have occurred. And, for balance, here is an article on the Generation IV reactor designs being developed to minimize the risks of nuclear reactors. There are still in the theoretical stage and are not expected to be operational until at least 2030 (if ever).
5) The storage (often on-site) and disposal of nuclear waste continue to be a major problem due to the high level of radioactivity of some waste materials from reactor cores and the long half-life of some of the wastes. Rules that limited the amount of nuclear waste that could be stored on-site were changed because a long-term solution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal has proven elusive. According to the reports I have read, there is a risk of even more severe catastrophe at the
6) There are safer alternatives to meet our energy needs. The first is to save energy through conservation and efficiency. I personally feel that this, along with using solar, wind and other safe sources on a decentralized basis, is the pathway to not only solve our emissions problem, but would be lead to far more security and a more peaceful and prosperous world. I had the privilege of working with Amory Lovins in the mid-1970s (before he was well-known) as he was proposing a “soft path” for our energy future; his vision has withstood the tests of time. Here is a recent article proposing a different energy path; more here.
The nuclear industry would not be viable economically without taxpayer subsidies, such as the Price-Anderson Act, which has shifted liability to the taxpayer instead of the industry. Imagine if those subsidies were spent instead on conservation, solar, wind and other benign sources of energy. In my view, we would have a healthier population, environment and economy, and it would lay the foundation of a lasting peace.