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The Misconception of Nuclear Power

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On a Connecticut public radio program I listened to recently, two guests discussed their views of the growing energy problem overwhelming the US economy. Both pundits, who are political columnists for national magazines, agreed that in addition to conservation measures and an increase in renewable sources, nuclear power is a card that the US must hold in its hand in order to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and our consumption of fossil fuels. Both speakers agreed that nuclear was a good investment, as it was "clean and had almost no carbon footprint."

The contractors who build nuclear power plants, the energy companies who operate them and the banks that underwrite the bonds that fund them are hoping to take that misconception straight to the bank.

Nuclear power is viewed as problematic typically due to issues involving public health and safety. Grave concerns linger to this day about how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. Since 9/11, security issues dominate much of the debate. Many who are more in tune with the realities of how nuclear power is actually produced in the US currently worry about catastrophic breaches of reactors. They also state, with real evidence on their side, that no level of exposure to ambient radiation produced every day at utility sites is healthy for humans, particularly pregnant women and young children. However, many are now willing to ignore, or at the very least table, serious action on these issues because of the false notion that nuclear power is clean.

Even opponents of nuclear power get it wrong on this issue. At a forum held at the Time Warner offices in New York, Chairman Richard Parsons hosted then Democratic candidate John Edwards in a conversation that included Edwards' opposition to expanding America's nuclear capacity. But even Edwards failed to address the question of "how dirty is the mining and processing of uranium?"

The answer is very dirty. The mining of uranium, like the excavation of any other resource that must be discovered, torn out of the ground and carted away, along with the handling of excess rubble, by heavy equipment, could not be any more polluting. The precious uranium must be taken, by truck, to facilities that themselves require enormous amounts of power in order to process and enrich the radioactive ore into the fissionable material that is used in the reactor that is operated by a utility as a "clean" source of power. The retrieval of any energy resources, whether it be oil, coal or natural gas, requires enormous amounts of energy itself. Even gasoline itself is delivered by trucks that are powered by gasoline. But, along with coal, nothing compares to the mining and processing of uranium. It is an overwhelmingly dirty process on a carbon footprint basis.

Energy companies that are investing in nuclear power by seeking the renewal of the licenses of some of America's aging reactors are counting on the current economic downturn and War-for-Oil fatigue to make the case not only for status quo nuclear capacity, but also for a major expansion of utility reactors across the country. The claim that nuclear power is clean is a lie. And not only due to the carbon-heavy mining and refinement processes, but also due to the complete and incomprehensible avoidance of what to do with the ever-increasing stockpile of its deadly radioactive waste.

In my next post on this subject, I want to share with you some of the work I have been involved with, since 1996, in closing specific reactors, utility and otherwise, and the politics involved with opposing the nuclear industry and their allies in Washington and state houses across the country. In particular, I would like to tell you about Tom's River, New Jersey, the home of Excelon's Oyster Creek reactor, one of the most compromised and dangerous nuclear facilities in the US and what Governor Jon Corzine is doing, and is not doing, to protect the health and safety of the residents of his state.

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