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Friday, January 30, 2009

marianoBIG DEAL By Dan Mariano Debunking nuclear energy myths

Nuclear energy is again a hot topic, thanks to a bill filed in Congress that seeks to earmark $1billion for a project to “revive” the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant (PNPP) in Morong, Bataan.

Due to numerous safety concerns, PNPP was never actually allowed to go on line although for decades it was the country’s single biggest source of foreign indebtedness—without producing a single watt of electricity.

The bill’s proponents, however, have been trying to convince the public that atomic power is the solution to the country’s energy problems and that its detractors are merely harping on old fears. Since the 1980s, they add, nuclear technology has undergone much improvement, thus further ensuring its safety.

Other sources—expert ones—say otherwise.

On June 23 last year America: The National Catholic Weekly published an article by Kristin Shrader-Frechette titled “Five Myths About Nuclear Energy.” Shrader-Frechette teaches biological sciences and philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

Below are excerpts from Shrader-Frechette’s article that demolish misrepresentations of atomic power.

Myth 1. Nuclear energy is clean: “While nuclear reactors themselves do not release greenhouse gases, reactors are only part of the nine-stage nuclear fuel cycle. This cycle includes mining uranium ore, milling it to extract uranium, converting the uranium to gas, enriching it, fabricating fuel pellets, generating power, reprocessing spent fuel, storing spent fuel at the reactor and transporting the waste to a permanent storage facility. Because most of these nine stages are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, nuclear power thus generates at least 33 grams of carbon-equivalent emissions for each kilowatt-hour of electricity that is produced . . .

“Nuclear power is even less clean when compared with energy-efficiency measures, such as using compact-fluorescent bulbs and increasing home insulation. Whether in medicine or energy policy, preventing a problem is usually cheaper than curing or solving it, and energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to solve the problem of reducing greenhouse gases.

Myth 2. Nuclear energy is inexpensive: “ . . . The only nearly finished nuclear plant in the West, now being built in Finland by the French company Areva, will generate electricity costing 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. Yet the US government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory calculated actual costs of new wind plants, over the last seven years, at 3.4 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“Although some groups say nuclear energy is inexpensive, their misleading claims rely on trimming the data on cost. [A] 2003 [Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)] study, for instance, included neither the costs of reprocessing nuclear material, nor the full interest costs on nuclear-facility construction capital, nor the total costs of waste storage. Once these omissions—from the entire nine-stage nuclear fuel cycle—are included, nuclear costs are about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour . . .

“ . . . Wind’s cost-effectiveness also explains why in 2007 wind received $9 billion in US private investments, while nuclear energy received zero. US wind energy has been growing by nearly 3,000 megawatts each year, annually producing new electricity equivalent to what three new nuclear reactors could generate. Meanwhile, no new US atomic-power reactors have been ordered since 1974.

“ . . . Standard and Poor’s, the credit and investment-rating company, downgrades the rating of any utility that wants a nuclear plant. It claims that even subsidies are unlikely to make nuclear investment wise. Forbes magazine recently called nuclear investment ‘the largest managerial disaster in business history,’ something pursued only by the ‘blind’ or the ‘biased.’

Myth 3. Nuclear energy is necessary to address climate change: “ . . . From an economic perspective, atomic power is inefficient at addressing climate change because dollars used for more expensive, higher-emissions nuclear energy cannot be used for cheaper, lower-emissions renewable energy. Atomic power is also not sustainable. Because of dwindling uranium supplies, by the year 2050 reactors would be forced to use low-grade uranium ore whose greenhouse emissions would roughly equal those of natural gas . . .”

Myth 4. Nuclear energy will not increase weapons proliferation: “ . . . This myth has been rejected by both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US Office of Technology Assessment. More nuclear plants means more weapons materials, which means more targets, which means a higher risk of terrorism and proliferation . . .

“Nuclear energy actually increases the risks of weapons proliferation because the same technology used for civilian atomic power can be used for weapons, as the cases of India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Pakistan illustrate. As the Swedish Nobel Prize winner Hannes Alven put it, ‘The military atom and the civilian atom are Siamese twins’ . . .

Myth 5. Nuclear energy is safe: “Proponents of nuclear energy, like Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace, and the former Argonne National Laboratory adviser Steve Berry, say that new reactors will be safer than current ones—‘meltdown proof.’ Such safety claims also are myths. Even the 2003 MIT energy study predicted that tripling civilian nuclear reactors would lead to about four core-melt accidents.

“ . . . If nuclear plants are as safe as their proponents claim, why do utilities need the US Price-Anderson Act, which guarantees utilities protection against 98 percent of nuclear-accident liability and transfers these risks to the public? All US utilities refused to generate atomic power until the government established this liability limit. Why do utilities, but not taxpayers, need this nuclear-liability protection?

“Another problem is that high-level radioactive waste must be secured ‘in perpetuity,’ as the US National Academy of Sciences puts it. Yet the [US] DOE has already admitted that if nuclear waste is stored at Nevada ’s Yucca Mountain, as has been proposed, future generations could not meet existing radiation standards.

“ . . . These facts suggest that Alvin Weinberg was right. Four decades ago, the then-director of the government’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory warned that nuclear waste required society to make a Faustian bargain with the devil. In exchange for current military and energy benefits from atomic power, this generation must sell the safety of future generations.”

dansoy26@yahoo.com

 

The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Feb 02nd 2009

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