Case against Nuclear Energy and for Renewables

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Excerpt from Conrad Miller:

"Are America's leaders and citizens aware that Germany is phasing out nuclear power, as are several other European countries? Today, Germany has garnered the leading worldwide edge for both wind and solar technologies. With studies coming out showing increased incidence of cancer and leukemia surrounding nuclear plants in the United Kingdom and Germany, isn't it time America acknowledged that nuclear power is not "safe and clean" as nuclear-industry-funded flaks like Patrick Moore and Christy Todd Whitman shamelessly proclaim? Shouldn't Americans also know that 80 percent of the fuel for nuclear plants, uranium, is imported? No, nuclear power will not make us "independent of foreign oil," for only 2 percent of our electricity is generated by oil (18.8 percent is the latest figure for electricity generated from nuclear power in the United States).

The Insuperable Problem of Plutonium

Most Americans are well aware of the most obvious problem with nuclear power: radioactive waste. This ultimately toxic waste still cannot be safely contained for the necessary thousands of years. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. That means that after 24,000 years, half of the quantity of plutonium-239 we started with is still radioactive. Experts inform us that any radionuclide such as plutonium-239 is hazardous for ten to twenty half-lives, meaning plutonium-239 will require absolutely complete unbreachable containment for 240,000 to 480,000 years. It is unknown how long current technological containment experiments can contain nuclear waste. However, we do know that concrete only lasts about fifty to one hundred years for its possible containment function.

Plutonium's lung-cancer-causing dose is one microgram, or one millionth of a gram. With 454 grams in one pound, that means that one pound of plutonium can theoretically cause 454 million lung cancers, if dispersed in small enough particles via some accident to enter poor unknowing victims' lungs. Thus, twenty pounds of plutonium (just one of more than 500 radionuclides produced in each of our 104 nuclear plants every day by splitting the uranium atom via fission) could kill every human being on earth by inducing lung cancer, which could take up to thirty years to develop, and which would have no label for its cause. Each nuclear plant produces between 400 and 1,000 pounds of plutonium among its radioactive wastes per year. Twenty pounds of plutonium is sufficient to produce an atom bomb as powerful as those that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Remember that the nuclear power plant began as the unit that produced plutonium for our country's first atomic bombs. Then someone decided that these units could produce electricity that would be "too cheap to meter." This did not prove to be true. Government subsidies and limited insurance liability laws (e.g., the Price-Anderson Act, which limits nuclear industry liability for a nuclear accident to a mere $10 billion, meaning the excess cost above this designated amount would fall on taxpayers) have sustained the nuclear industry. By this time it's a very "mature" industry, but it still states that without large multibillion-dollar government loan guarantees, no new nuclear plants can be built today or in the future.

Chernobyl's Lessons

The truly catastrophic danger of nuclear power is a nuclear accident like the April 26, 1986, Chernobyl steam explosion and fire that occurred in the Ukraine, which was then part of the USSR. Many of our new voters may not recall that incident since they weren't born yet, or they were still riding their tricycles and skateboards back in the mid-1980s. The expense of that accident has been estimated to be about $400 billion, in a relatively rural area. Imagine if that happened in a metropolitan area like New York City, where the Indian Point nuclear reactor complex in Westchester county today currently leaks strontium, tritium, and other radionuclides toward the Hudson River, which is just 300 yards away. The monetary cost would easily be in multitrillion dollars, devastating the hub of our economy and thus wounding our national economy for an almost unimaginable period of time (not to mention the human and environmental costs).

Although nuclear power proponents may repeatedly drum the number thirty-one into our media subconscious as the death toll for Chernobyl, Dr. Alexei Yablokov, president of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, reports that at least 300,000 people have died prematurely thus far as a result of the world's worst human-caused industrial accident. Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan stated: "At least 2 million children in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation require physical treatment [due to the Chernobyl accident]. Not until 2016, at the earliest, will we know the full number of those likely to develop serious medical conditions."

Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko, nuclear physicist and former head of the Ukrainian Academy of Science, supervised the "cleanup" of Chernobyl (and later died from cancer). He informed us that an area approximately 375 miles in diameter around the blown-apart Chernobyl plant would be contaminated for 100,000 years. While speaking about nuclear power during a U.S. visit, he also stated:

To construct a safe reactor is practically impossible either here or in Russia ... we simply cannot get energy from such enterprises. Because we are dealing with nuclear processes, with uncontrolled reactions, which occur within millionths of a second, and no matter what kind of protection mechanism you design, sooner or later the objects must explode and they will. Why were they created at all? When they were created, constructed, it was understood that they were extremely dangerous, but at that point the physicists were told that they must save the world from Hitler at any cost and as soon as possible. And unfortunately the physicists accomplished this, which they regret to this day.

This applies to all new but commercially untested nuclear reactors. Although we may hear the phrase "inherently safe" oxymoronically proclaimed about these awesome contraptions, remember that the Chernobyl accident occurred when the reactor suddenly went from approximately 7 percent of full power to 100 times 100 percent of full power in less than one minute! New reactors may improve upon old designs, but the ultimate danger shall always be there, no matter the hype or the happy hopes the "nuclear power is green" dreamer/profiteer errantly lays upon a desperately energy-seeking human race.

Nuclear Containment and Transportation in the United States

From mining to shipping to decommissioning, there are untold costs, both health-wise and dollar-wise, in the nuclear cycle that Americans have been shielded from hearing about. Yucca Mountain in Nevada has thirty-three earthquake faults, and it has been rejected by numerous scientists as a safe repository for nuclear waste. Up to 70,000 rail and truck shipments of high-level radioactive waste over the next thirty years could wreak havoc upon any community or city along their routes through forty-three states should an accident or ambush occur to what are still, to this day, inadequately tested casks. The Nuclear Monitor has called shipping the "weakest link ... in irradiated fuel management," with only 2,500 to 3,000 such shipments actually transpiring "in the U.S. since the dawn of the Atomic Age."

The Nuclear Monitor's March 2006 issue reported: "Conservative estimates reveal that each truck cask on the highways would carry up to forty times the long-lasting radioactivity released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Rail and barge casks, six times larger, would carry over 200 times the long-lasting radiation released at Hiroshima. Release of even a fraction of this cargo would spell unprecedented radiological disaster." Exposure to a hot spill of high-level radioactive waste from three feet away for ten seconds could deliver a fatal dose of radiation. The individual involved would probably die from radiation sickness within two weeks-bleeding from multiple orifices and suffering from an imploding immune system, as occurred with many Japanese atomic bomb victims at the end of World War II.

No major TV networks carried the news that buried within the Senate version of the economic stimulus bill was up to $50 billion for nuclear loan guarantees, of which more than 50 percent was expected to end up in default according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sadly, our major networks never mentioned anything about the removal of these loan guarantees in the reconciled stimulus bill, either. The nuclear story exists in the shadows. Americans, beware that this unwarrantedly subsidized industry may sneakily gain loan guarantees in the future if the light of the media does not shine on the next attempt to bail out the nuclear cabal.

Renewable Renaissance

Importantly, no new nuclear plant would be ready for ten years, while we could be supplying all our energy from alternative sources within a decade should we spend our precious resources wisely. Denmark today gets 25 percent of its electricity from wind. Spain expects to generate almost 30 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2010, requiring all new and renovated buildings to use solar power for part of their energy.

A 2.5-megawatt Clipper wind turbine can be made in one day. New thin-film photovoltaics could be part of a rooftop renaissance of solar energy at competitive cost without the need for new electric transmission lines. "Small" hydropower capacity (from facilities generating less than 30 megawatts, theoretically not impacting fish spawning) in the United States today is more than 275,000 megawatts-nearly triple our current hydropower production. And then there is energy efficiency or "negawatts, not megawatts" decreasing combustive pollution. As Amory Lovins famously says, "because saving electricity is cheaper than making it, pollution is avoided not at a cost but at a profit."

It is time to create an electricity system for the United States that relies neither on fossil fuel nor nuclear power. We can do it, starting now--yes, we can!" (


Conrad Miller, MD, is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician. The entire chapter on nuclear power from his latest book, The Most Important Issues Americans THINK They Know Enough About (2008), plus more relevant information is available at