Yeah, here we go again: gas gets expensive, and people who should know better start talking about nuclear.
If ever there was a really dumb idea, splitting atoms to generate electircity is it. This is something I know about: Back in 1974, I did a college research paper on the plusses and minuses of nuclear energy…and I discovered lots of minuses and not a single plus. My first book, co-authored with Richard Curtis and Elizabeth Hogan, was about this.
This week on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman had a tribute to the visionary inventory Buckminster Fuller: inventor of the geodesic dome, the Dymaxion house and car, and all sorts of other groovy things–inventions to make the lives of poor and working people better, both in the US and elsewhere.
One of her guests in this tribute was energy visionary Hunter Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute: an amazing energy think tank that ahs for 30 years focused on intelligent energy use, and if we follow the advice of Hunter and her ex-husband Amory Lovins, we could probably knock at least 50% if not 70 to 80% of our energy consumption, as a society.
About nukes, she had this to say: “Actually, I think Bucky and I stand in about the same place.
We both liked nuclear power, remotely sited 93 million miles away will
do just fine, thank you. He was a big fan of using renewable energy.
And we can meet all of our energy needs, first of all, by using energy
very efficiently—that’s the cheapest thing to do—second, by getting the
remaining supplies that we need from the already available
cost-effective renewables. And in fact, this is what’s happening.
“Nuclear power, the two units outside of Tampa now, are at $17
billion and rising. New nuclear plants will probably come on at
something like $12 billion. Neither McCain nor Obama have done the
numbers. We simply can’t afford it.”
Economics is only one of the many reasons why nuclear power is a terrible idea. I don’t have space to go into all the details (I wrote a whole book on this, after all)–but here are a few of the dooziest doozies:
- It is only because of a heavily subsidized limited-liability insurance plan called the Price-Anderson Act that there is such a thing as a nuclear power industry in the US: insurers wouldn’t touch the plants until the federal government stepped in with this plan, which not only caps the premium well below market rates, but sets the total payout at a tiny fraction of potential damages. Even after the government threatened to develop the plants on its own and drive the electric companies out of business if they didn’t step up and get busy with nuclear (this is back in the 1950s), they wouldn’t touch it without this mammoth insurance subsidy.
- Talk about terrorist targets! The plants themselves, and many places throughout the fuel cycle, are at high risk.
- Extremely toxic waste needs to be completely isolated from the envionment for many times longer than the span of recorded human history. We don’t have a great track record about preserving things in complete isolation for a quarter of a million years. In fact, even 10,000-year-old artificats are extremely rare. And then there’s the matter of whether anyone will still be able to read the warning signs.
- Centralized power systems make no sense anymore. We have the technology, using nonpolluting, renewable resources such as solar and wind, to generate power right where we need it, and not lose huge amounts to transmission inefficiencies.
- Accidents are a serious concern: You’ve heard about Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, but there were a number of other serious nuclear accidents too (Browns Ferry, Alabama and Enrico Fermi, in Michigan, to name two).
- And for all this risk, there’s no real benefit. Taken as a whole, nuclear power generates lots of carbon and doesn’t net us any power. When you count the entire fuel cycle (mining, milling, processing, transport, loading, power generation, storage, reprocessing/waste storage), we’re not getting any power, and we’re adding a lot to pollution and carbon. Not a good trade!
The best book I know of on nukes (not the one I wrote) is still No Nukes by Anna Gyorgy and friends, from South End Press. If you want to know more, I strongly suggest getting hold of a copy (the Nader book is good too, but it’s not as easy to read).
NOTE: This blog will be on vacation for the enxt three weeks.