A first-year business student should be able to explain the basics of Supply and Demand. A simple concept, but then why would the nuclear industrial complex build so-called “advanced” nuclear reactors when the fuel to run them isn’t available?

For clarity, I’d like to borrow the moniker “unicorns” from ally Mike Carberry. There are plans for micro nuclear reactors, mobile micro nuclear reactors, small modular nuclear reactors, and Terrapower’s natrium chloride reactor (just a fancy name for a molten salt reactor), to name a few. It needs to be clarified. Even if unicorns are Scotland’s national animal, they don’t exist, so we’ll call them “unicorns.” Sorry, kids and Scotland!

Traditional reactors use low-enriched uranium (LEU), enriched to 2%. Many unicorns, however, require nuclear fuel enriched to up to 20%, a nuclear weapons-proliferation level. This enriched fuel is called high assay low enriched uranium or HALEU.

According to the think tank Third Way, Russia is the only consistent supplier of LEU and the only commercial supplier of HALEU. Before Ukraine, we were thrilled to buy HALEU and other uranium products from Russia. Why not? Let them do the dirty, dangerous job of reprocessing, and we’ll buy it from them! 

Is dirty reprocessing and increased uranium mining part of our clean energy future? 

It’s NOT recycling

The nuclear industrial complex claims the unicorns burn radioactive waste. This is doublespeak and an attempt to rebrand reprocessing, a dangerous, filthy practice that we’ve traditionally left to the Russians while we hypocritically purchase it. Reprocessing puts the lives of workers and communities at needless risk, and there is a real risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Reprocessing takes “spent fuel” through chemical processes to separate out uranium and plutonium, which can also be used to make nuclear weapons. The United States decided in the 1970s that reprocessing was too dangerous and that the proliferation risk was too high. It poses a huge terrorism risk, not to mention the health risks. The waste produced after the unicorns are done would cause new radioactive waste streams and, according to Union for Concerned Scientists, will not reduce our waste problem but increase the risks of terrorism.

Going nuclear is never the answer to energy or peace, and it will never make us safer or healthier. We cannot replace one horrible energy solution for one with even more catastrophic outcomes. Splitting atoms to create steam has the same problems it did 70+ years ago, and we are no closer to solving those problems. Meanwhile, truly renewable energy like solar and storage is improving by leaps and bounds while giving the promise of energy independence and lower bills. Why in Hades would we go nuclear now?