5 Questions Iowans Should Answer Before Accepting Nuclear Power
by Paul Deaton
1. Are there enough uranium reserves to make nuclear power a long term solution?
One estimate put world uranium reserves at 3.5 million tons. Without adding any new nuclear reactors, current consumption of uranium is estimated at 67,000 tons per year. Do the math and we have fuel for 52.2 years. If the world doubles the number of reactors, as some propose, we are down to 26.1 years.
2. Do you accept the socialization of nuclear power?
In a recent study in Idaho, Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy found that there is no financial return on investment in nuclear power without substantial government subsidies. Our open market system of capitalism won’t support nuclear power without government subsidies.
3. If you think nuclear power has no CO2 emissions, did you consider emissions from uranium mining and milling?
Unlike oil, coal, natural gas and other hydrocarbon fuels that were deposited underground in large, concentrated deposits, uranium is a metal. To extract uranium from the ore requires energy. The amount of energy required to extract uranium varies depending on the concentration of the metal in the ore and the technique used to extract it. Some estimate that the energy requirements of mining and
milling lean ores may surpass the energy produced in a nuclear reactor. In addition to the energy for the milling process, the mill tailings must be remediated. This means neutralizing mill tailings with limestone, mixing them with bentonite to immobilize them and isolate them from groundwater, transporting them back to the mine and covering them and replanting natural vegetation. All of this takes energy, which means CO2 emissions.
4. If you still think nuclear power has no CO2 emissions, have you read “Nuclear Power – The Energy Balance” by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith?
Van Leeuwen and Smith found that “Nuclear power is not just an energy technology. Nuclear power is a unique complex of technical, economical, political and military interests.” They also found that “discussions on nuclear power often are troubled by implicit but persistent misconceptions: 1).Ultimately every uranium atom in the ground or sea could be recovered, with no or a negligible energy input. 2). Almost every uranium atom extracted from the ground or sea could be fissioned. These assumptions are false and easy to refute by applying basic physical laws, as is shown in (their) study. A third, also implicit, misconception seems the view of many people talking about electricity generation thinking they’re talking about the whole energy supply.” To read why these misconceptions are significant and should be understood, click on this link to access the study.
5. Do we have a right to commit following generations to the 100 year life-cycle of a nuclear power plant?
When we consider the entire lifecycle of a nuclear power plant, from construction to decommissioning, combined with sourcing uranium and disposal of the radioactive wastes, the current generation would be making decisions that impact people far into the future. In a letter to James Madison on September 6, 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote about what we now call trans-generational justice, “The question whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government.” If Jefferson believed that trans-generational commitments beyond 19 years are “an act of force and not of right,” so should we. We should consider carefully the decisions we make now regarding nuclear power as they will bind our heirs.
To learn more about why nuclear power is not the answer to our energy challenges, click on the links in this article.
~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in
rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. He is also a
member of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility and Veterans for
Peace. E-mail Paul Deaton
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