Nuclear greenwashing - Page 5

Global warming has suddenly put nukes back on the agenda — but there's a lot the industry isn't telling you
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After working for 17 years as a consultant to the NRC, he joined the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) as a nuclear-safety engineer. He spends his days combing NRC reports and documents and compiling studies on the safety of the industry. His experience and research have caused him to conclude that the commission can't stay on top of the 103 plants in the country.

"We get a lot of calls from workers in the plants, and NRC employees that have safety issues they're afraid to raise," he said. "We had three calls last week. That's a little more than usual, but we usually get 50 to 60 whistleblower calls a year." He said sometimes the workers have already raised the issue internally but need an ally to force a remedy at the plant. Other times they're afraid to speak about what they've seen without fear of retaliation.

Lochbaum authored a September 2006 study for the UCS titled "Walking the Nuclear Tightrope" on the issues of safety and reliability. It's a chilling read; it carefully outlines how regulators have been complicit in allowing plants to operate far longer than they should and how these overstressed plants eventually have to be shut down for years to restore safety standards. He found that in the last 40 years plants have ground to a halt for a year or more on 51 occasions. In most cases it wasn't a spontaneous incident but an overall decaying of conditions that compromised safety.

"Some observers have argued that the fact no US nuclear power reactor has experienced a meltdown since 1979 (during which time 45 year-plus outages have occurred) demonstrates the status quo is working successfully," Lochbaum wrote. "That's as fallacious as arguing that the levees protecting New Orleans were fully adequate prior to Hurricane Katrina by pointing to the absence of similar disasters between 1980 and 2004."

One of the most recent and chilling examples is the 2002 outage of the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, where a hole the size of a football was discovered in the vessel reactor head. Only a half inch of steel remained to prevent a massive nuclear meltdown. The plant was overdue for a shutdown and an inspection and had been granted the extension by the NRC.

When asked what he thought about that close call, Moore said, "I didn't think it was a close call. I thought it was a mechanical failure that should have been caught sooner. It was caught long before it became an accident or anything like that."

"When you say close call, that means that nothing actually happened," he concluded.

But when there's a facility where an accident could lead to mass deaths, even close calls are grounds for concern. That's why we have to hold nuclear plants to such high standards. And the fact that plants have to close so often to avoid disastrous accidents doesn't say much for the reliability argument.

EMISSIONS

This may be the issue on which the pro-nukers make the most headway. Moore cites a number of international studies, posted on the NEI's Web site, that show nuclear plants competing only with hydropower when it comes to emitting the lowest level of carbon dioxide. Even solar panels and wind turbines, when one factors in the entire energy process, emit more greenhouse gases, according to these studies, though all these power sources release significantly less than burning coal or natural gas.

The anti-nuke crowd says a true study has never been completed that quantifies the CO2 emissions from mining uranium and turning it into usable nuclear fuel. Both are heavily energy intensive. Additionally, they argue that transporting waste will incur even more CO2 emissions, whether it's shipped across the sea for reprocessing in Europe or trucked across the country for burial in Yucca Mountain.

But the waste itself is also a huge issue.