Nuclear greenwashing - Page 6

Global warming has suddenly put nukes back on the agenda — but there's a lot the industry isn't telling you

Although nuclear power plants don't have bad breath, they do emit toxins — and it's an unresolved issue as to where to put them. The current forecast for opening the Yucca Mountain repository is 2021. Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada opposes building the facility, and he's pushing a bill that would require plants to keep the crud in their backyards.

"They've had 50 years to work on the waste issue," Weisman said. "And the best solution they've come up with is, who do we not like enough to send it to?"

Either way, Moore thinks waste is not a problem. If anything, it should be reprocessed — he likes to call it "recycling." Under that process, spent fuel is bathed in acid to separate out the usable plutonium. That can be followed by vitrification — a complex, energy-intensive process of suspending the highly radioactive and corrosive acid in glass, which is then sealed in expensive trash cans of steel and concrete and buried underground for at least 300 years, after which point he predicts it should no longer be a problem.

"It makes more fuel," he said.

Actually, Hirsch said, "it makes more weapons-grade plutonium." He argues that the last thing the nation should do is allow nuclear-plant operators to separate the plutonium and put it on the market, where it can be leaked for bomb making.

Additionally, there are a number of waste sites around the country that are slowly emitting what they've been designed — or not designed in some cases — to contain.

The worst is probably in Hanford, Wash., where decades' worth of reprocessed spent radioactive fuel pushed the area beyond Superfund status into a "national nuclear waste sacrifice zone.

"Hanford is the most contaminated site in North America and one of the most significant long-term threats facing the Columbia River," Greg deBruler, of Columbia Riverkeeper, wrote in the Fall 2006 issue of Waterkeeper, the group's quarterly journal. "It's difficult to comprehend the reality of Hanford's 150 square miles of highly contaminated groundwater or its 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste sitting in 45-year-old rotting steel tanks."

Much of that waste includes leftover reprocessed spent uranium fuel, which ate through its casks and poisoned the community's drinking water.

Moore said, "It's not as if everyone is dead. The nuclear waste has been contained."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.


"The economics of nuclear power are well proven around the world. It is one of the most cost-effective forms of energy," Moore said.

Just check the record. Of the 103 reactors that were built in the United States, 75 ran a total of $100 billion over budget. India more recently went 300 percent over budget on its 10 reactors. Finland is already 18 months behind and $1 billion over on a reactor.

Given this track record, the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration "Annual Energy Outlook 2005" reported that "new plants are not expected to be economical." They're so risky, in fact, that not a single plant could have been built without the 1957 Price-Anderson act, which moves the liability for a nuke plant off its owners and onto US taxpayers. "If they were really economical, they'd be able to get insurance," Weisman said. The bill was recently renewed.

The nuclear industry forges on unperturbed, claiming that new plants have been streamlined for easier construction. Additionally, the siting and licensing laws for plants have been changed to speed up the process by precluding public input. (Given the industry's safety record so far, that's not comforting.) Experts predict it will now take 10 years to build a new nuclear plant.