Nuclear power isn't the answer to energy or environmental problems

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

By Eric Epstein
The CEO of Westinghouse recently argued in the Post-Gazette that nuclear power can help cure global warming and make America energy independent ("Nuclear Empowered," Forum, Feb. 22).
The problem is, the numbers don't add up and our cars don't run on uranium pellets. Don't be fooled again by the same people who brought you electricity "too cheap to meter." Ask your friendly nuclear power plant to answer four questions about:
Nuclear waste
Every nuclear reactor produces 30 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste per year. This is nuclear garbage without a forwarding address sitting in a swimming pool in your backyard. Three Mile Island is home to hundreds of tons of spent fuel and a melted reactor that has not been decontaminated or decommissioned. An island in the middle of a river that empties into the Chesapeake Bay is not an ideal nuclear waste site.
When is the nuclear industry going to solve the problem they told us not to worry about 40 years ago? Would you buy a house from a developer who promised to install a sewer line 40 years after you began flushing?
Greenhouse gases
Nuclear-fuel production in America creates chlorofluorocarbons. The enrichment of uranium in Kentucky releases large amounts of CFCs, which are more damaging as a global warmer than carbon dioxide. CFCs remain the primary agent for stratospheric ozone depletion. The production and importation of chlorofluorocarbons was banned as part of a global treaty (the Montreal Protocol, 1987), and by the federal government (Clean Air Act Amendments, 1990). CFCs were supposed to be phased out, but the chemical can still be used until supplies run out.
From the moment uranium is mined, milled, enriched, fabricated and transported it releases large quantities of airborne pollutants, as well. What is the nuclear industry's plan to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions?
Water and fish kills
Communities and ecosystems that depend on limited water resources are adversely affected by nuclear plants, which draw millions of gallons a day and return water at elevated temperatures. Every year millions of fish, fish eggs, shellfish and other organisms are sucked out of the water and killed at such plants as those at Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island.
During the 2002 drought, 34 Pennsylvania counties were designated as "drought emergencies;" another 31 were placed on "drought watch." Last fall, 53 were placed on "drought watch." In both instances, Dauphin, Lancaster and York counties (where Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom are located) were placed on the watch list. Yet both plants were exempted from water conservation efforts. Should nuclear power plants continue to be exempt from drought restrictions?
Cost of fuel
The price for uranium ore rose every month in 2007, peaking at $120 a pound. Processed nuclear fuel crested at $95 that year. This was the same "low-cost" fuel that sold for $7 a pound in 2001.
America imports 84 percent of its nuclear fuel from such dependable foreign allies as Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as Australia (when their mines aren't flooded). The price now rotates around $50 per pound. Why is America replacing a foreign oil dependency with an expensive, foreign nuclear fuel dependency?
Memory is a funny thing: It only works when activated. It's your wallet. It's your rivers. It's your back yard.
Eric Epstein is the chairman of Three Mile Island Alert Inc., a "safe-energy" organization based in Harrisburg (
First published on March 4, 2009 at 12:00 amĀ