In the first decade of the 21st century, it was relatively easy for the nuclear industry to convince the American public that nuclear power can be “safe” and to sell the notion of a nuclear power “renaissance.” But after the catastrophe at Fukushima, the stark realities of nuclear power have become impossible to ignore.
I was just a baby when the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident occurred and a young child in Idaho during the Chernobyl disaster. My peers and I have no specific memories of either of these events. People born later in the 1980s have only vague recollections of these crises and people born in the ’90s either know of them as history or not at all. Their impact had faded even for many of those who were adults at the time, though not in the memories of the people who founded the Snake River Alliance.
But the devastating events in Japan demonstrate, once again,that the risks associated with nuclear power are unacceptable. They are unacceptable in terms of the threats posed to public health and safety and unacceptable in terms of economic risks. Nuclear costs too much (so much so that the industry cannot compete on Wall Street) and takes too long to build. In fact, reactors are so slow and costly to build that they actually impede climate protection measures. They must have vast quantities of water, there is no solution to their waste, and the threats they pose to our health and resources are far too great. It was once said that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter.” It is now clear that it is both too expensive and too dangerous to matter.
In the looking glass world created by the nuclear industrial complex, as pro-nuclear lobbyists descend on Washington, DC, to do triage on the myth of the renaissance, we are asked to put aside our misgivings and leap back into the promise of nuclear power. Instead of talking about what Fukushima has meant and will mean for the people of Japan and around the world (levels of iodine-131 were elevated in Boise rainwater),we are hearing that nuclear power is still a viable option for our energy future. We are being asked to turn a blind eye to a crisis that has been unfolding for over a month. Fukushima is now rated as a 7—the highest nuclear disaster rating—and it will be going on for some time, not to clean up but rather to stave off further serious harm.
Every reactor building on this planet is filled with deadly material. A quarter of the US fleet of 104 reactors are the same as the Fukushima design. The Union of Concerned Scientists just released information on emails leaked from internal communications at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) indicating the NRC doubts that some of the nation’s nuclear power plants (specifically in Delta,PA, and Surry County, VA) are prepared for a Fukushima-scale disaster.
There is no “safe level” of ionizing radiation in the sense of zero risk (National Academies’ 7th Report on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, 2006). Moreover, Fukushima demonstrates quite clearly that a billion dollar asset can turn into a multi-billion dollar liability overnight. JP Morgan said on April 12th that Tokyo Electrical Power Company (TEPCO) could face $23.6 billion in compensation costs. In addition to those staggering numbers, there are liabilities to public health, agriculture, the fishing industry and to shipping. Even the US military is leery.
Such heavy liabilities call into question the notion that a new fleet of reactors is going to come to fruition. Even before the Fukushima disaster,the supposed “renaissance” was a pipe dream dependent on government hand-outs and plagued with design problems.
We will eventually learn so many hard lessons from Fukushima.We already know that reactors should not be co-located on the same site and that we should not produce or use MOX fuel. After Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima Daichi, it is time to stop taking risks that we and future generations cannot afford. We need to stop all new nuclear power reactors and phase out the 104 plants in operation in the US today.Please call or write your Congressional delegation and tell them not to support new loan guarantees for nuclear power. Write to your local paper with a letter to the editor insisting that we learn from Fukushima that nuclear power is not worth the risks.