There are a number of show-stopping problems with nuclear power. We’ve broken them down and categorized them into Waste – Water – Wall Street – Wait – Weapons.
Waste – There is no scientifically credible, publicly accepted long term plan to dispose of the vast amounts of highly radioactive waste created by the nuclear power industry. President Obama’s “Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future” is set to recommend moving irradiated reactor fuel and consolidating it, which will target Department of Energy sites, including the Idaho National Laboratory. The Alliance has long argued that nuclear waste should instead be stored as safely as possible as close to its point of generation as possible in hardened, on-site facilities. But the very best approach to nuclear waste, which will remain hazardous virtually until the end of time, is to not produce it to begin with.
Water – Nuclear power reactors use upwards of 30 million gallons per day per reactor under normal operating conditions. The ongoing tragedy at Fukushima has demonstrated the catastrophic consequences of not having enough water to keep reactors and irradiated fuel cooled. At times of increasing temperatures and drought, especially in the arid west, it does not make sense to use a technology that needs water to operate safely.
Wall Street – Ever since the Three-Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979, Wall Street has refused to invest in nuclear power. Now the US government is once again offering massive loan guarantees to the industry in the hopes of luring back private capital. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the default rate for these loans at more than 50 percent. One key reason for that is the extraordinarily high price tag for construction. It takes upwards of $12 billion to build a single nuclear reactor. That leads to electricity rates of 15 cents to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Even before the latest disaster, nuclear power, which was first touted as “too cheap to meter,” was quite clearly too expensive to matter.
Wait…wait…and…wait – Nuclear power plants take 10 to 15 years to build. Climate scientists are telling us that we have 6 to 8 years to meaningfully reduce our carbon emissions. It’s not possible for a new fleet of reactors to be built safely and economically in time to address carbon reductions. Energy efficiency and renewable generation are available more cheaply and safely now.
Weapons – There is an inextricable link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The US nuclear power industry was built as a subset of its nuclear weapons complex after the public horror over the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, which resulted in the annihilation of 250,000 people. Moreover, technologies that accompany nuclear power, such as uranium enrichment and irradiated fuel reprocessing, are essential steps in making a nuclear weapon, too. We will never be able to live in a nuclear weapons free world if nuclear power continues to expand.