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Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear Power’

America’s Energy Ethos: Do, Regardless of Harm

Sunday 12 June 2011
by: David Sirota, Truthout

Laugh me off as the idealistic son of a physician (which I am), but I still thought the doctor’s ethos of “first do no harm” was a notion we could all agree on. Even in this hyper-polarized Era of the Screaming Red-Faced Partisan, I thought we would witness the recent Fukushima reactor meltdown or footage of Americans setting their tap water on fire and at least agree to stop pursuing energy policies that we know endanger our health and safety — if not out of altruism, then out of self-interest.

How embarrassingly naive I was. That, or I momentarily forgot that this isn’t just any industrialized country — this is America circa 2011, a haven of hubris that has become hostile to the “do no harm” principle.

This makes us different than, say, Japan and Germany when it comes to nuclear power. Scarred by fallout, the former has canceled plans to build 14 new nuclear plants and has radically altered its energy agenda, now moving to pursue solar rather than atomic energy. Likewise, according to the Associated Press, the latter reacted to Japan’s plight by “vot(ing) in favor of a ban on nuclear power from 2022 onward.”

By contrast, in the days after the Fukushima disaster, the Obama administration not only reaffirmed its commitment to expanding nuclear power, but, according to ProPublica, also continued the policy of “routinely waiving fire rule violations at nearly half the nation’s 104 commercial reactors, even though fire presents one of the chief hazards at nuclear plants.”

Additionally, the Associated Press reports that two congressional lawmakers are now pushing the government to “back a new generation of miniature nuclear reactors” that would be sited throughout the country.

Incredibly, these moves come even as a nuclear reactor in Washington State just experienced a fire scare and even as a new study of U.S. Geological Survey data shows many of the nation’s reactors sit near active fault lines.

The same story is playing out in the quest to find natural gas. Over the last few years, more evidence has surfaced that suggests drinking water may be getting contaminated by fracking — a drilling technique that involves injecting toxic chemicals into the earth. This evidence runs the gamut from a new Duke University study into methane, to a New York Times report on fracking wastewater being dumped into rivers, to Pennsylvania gas companies acknowledging that fracking is contaminating drinking water, to those now-famous YouTube videos of combustible tap water.

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The Lessons of Fukushima

Truthout

Monday 28 March 2011

by: Hugh Gusterson   |  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | Report

As an anthropologist, I am always interested in what humans learn from their mistakes. Can humans change their behavior, thereby improving their chances of survival, not just through natural selection, but also through cultural learning? Or are we hardwired to repeat our mistakes over and over, like humanoid lemmings?

More to the point, what lessons will we learn from the nuclear accident at Fukushima, an accident thought to be impossible just two weeks ago?

Some people, many of them presumably already ill-disposed toward nuclear energy, have concluded that the lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear energy is inherently dangerous. Thus, Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “We can engineer nuclear power plants so that the chance of a Chernobyl-style disaster is almost nil. But we can’t eliminate it completely — nor can we envision every other kind of potential disaster. And where fission reactors are concerned, the worst-case scenario is so dreadful as to be unthinkable.” His colleague Anne Applebaum wrote on the same op-ed page: “If the competent and technologically brilliant Japanese can’t build a completely safe reactor, who can? … I … hope that a near-miss prompts people around the world to think twice about the true ‘price’ of nuclear energy, and that it stops the nuclear renaissance dead in its tracks.” (The nuclear renaissance comprises plans around the world to build as many as 350 new nuclear reactors, partly as a way of inhibiting climate change.)

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The Hidden Costs of Nuclear Power

Huff Post  By- Alec Baldwin

Posted: February 23, 2010 02:58 PM

Sitting in Bill Richardson’s office while he was Secretary of Energy under President Clinton was an opportunity that my colleagues and I from Standing for Truth About Radiation had worked hard to obtain. We wanted Richardson to not only close the research reactor at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, but also to shut down the Millstone plant in Waterford, Connecticut, which we asserted had been killing enormous amounts of fish with its water intake system for cooling. Local groups had been charging Millstone with destroying millions of pounds of local fish and with pumping superheated water back into the Long Island Sound, the temperatures of which had negatively impacted fish and shellfish habitat for decades.

Richardson, like any DOE Secretary before or after him, wasn’t all that interested in closing Millstone. Everywhere we went, government officials like Richardson invoked the figure “20 percent.” Twenty percent of domestic power in the US is derived from nuclear energy. The clean and safe source of power.

Often when discussing the advent of a new era in nuclear power generation, advocates for nukes, like Stewart Brand, who I referenced in my previous post, tread lightly over certain subjects, such as waste disposal and security issues. Other problems inherent in nuclear power generation, they simply ignore completely. One such issue is the impact of mining and processing radioactive materials into actual fuel. The mining and processing of material like uranium is one of the most carbon intensive processes used in creating energy. To mine, mill and refine uranium and to then submit the material to the enrichment, or gaseous diffusion, process takes vast amounts of energy. In sites around the US, massive coal burning plants pollute the air while providing the energy for uranium enrichment. Add to that the power needed to fabricate the enriched UF6 into fuel rods, and the resources needed to store the byproduct, reduced or depleted UF6. You begin to see that everything that leads up to a utility reactor going on line is anything but clean.

Another issue that nuke advocates sidestep is calculation of the true cost of bringing nuclear power plants on line. Just as oil, and thus gasoline, actually costs astronomically more than what we pay at the pump, due to the cost of US military interventions in the oil-rich areas of the world ( not to mention the costs in human lives, US and foreign), nuclear power has its own menu of hidden costs that are now, or one day will be, inherited by our children. Waste storage is the primary issue here. But the actual decommissioning and decontamination of reactors themselves will soon come to pass. Even with current licenses being foolishly extended and, thus, pushing the operational lives of these units years, even decades, beyond their original design, these units will eventually expire. The cost of closing them safely in current dollars is staggering. In the future, that will only get worse.

Scott Simon never asked Stewart Brand about Price Anderson. Even as utility operators put hundreds of millions into the Price Anderson fund respectively and billions collectively, one accident at, say, Indian Point, adjacent to New York City, would mean potentially many billions in costs. Who pays that? US taxpayers do, while Entergy, a private energy company, profits from the operation of the plant. Insuring these plants, over a hundred of them in the US, all aging, falls largely to US taxpayers. Another hidden cost. At least hidden in so far as most US citizens are concerned.

In the next piece that I post here, I will touch upon the issue of the health hazards posed by exposure to ambient radiation, which I believe is the least discussed and among the most insidious components of the nuclear powered utility legacy.

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The Truth About Nuclear Power in Utility Reactors

Huff Post  By- Alec Baldwin

Posted: February 22, 2010 12:41 PM

It was in 1996 that I was first contacted by an organization called the Standing for Truth About Radiation (STAR) Foundation. The Long Island-based group, a loose bundle of veterans of the anti-nuclear movement, local artists, businessmen with large investments in second homes on the East End and scientists with a career-long dedication to the issue were attempting to raise awareness about the Brookhaven National Laboratory and its nuclear-powered research facility, the High Flux Beam Reactor.

The reactor operations at Brookhaven were reported to have released billions of gallons of tritiated water into the headwaters of the Peconic River during the period of its operations from 1965 to 1996. BNL, the U.S. Army’s former Camp Upton and the site of decades-long research into all things nuclear, had been the base of operations for some of the earliest work on the atomic bomb. A coalition of different community groups had been opposing the HFBR at BNL for years. Pro-business lobbying groups warned that closing the reactor would have dire consequences to the Long Island economy, as national laboratories, with their high-skill, high-paying jobs, were viewed as “sexy” components of any area’s business landscape. Opponents of BNL pointed out that levels of soft tissue cancers and rare diseases such as rhabdomyosarcoma were extraordinarily higher adjacent to the water recharge area near the lab. More effectively, the anti-BNL groups pointed out that Long Islanders had already voiced their opinion of having nuclear reactors in the area when they agreed to absorb the unconscionable amount of money necessary to shutter the Shoreham nuclear power plant several years earlier.

The Long Island Lighting Company, one of the most horrifically mismanaged public utilities in U.S. history, had thrown the switch and already gone “online” with a utility reactor on the North Shore of Suffolk County, a decision that represented a game of chicken with the area’s rate payers. Once the reactor went “hot”, any move to shut it down would surely mean hundreds of millions of dollars extra in decommissioning and decontamination costs. Long Island residents said, “Bring it on.” Already the highest utility rate payers in the forty-eight contiguous states, LILCO customers absorbed billions in costs, amortized over several years, and Shoreham closed. Soon after that, then Governor George Pataki set up another darling of Albany politicos, a quasi-public authority (the Long Island Power Authority or LIPA) to, among other things, evacuate LILCO’s overpaid executives who were responsible for the Shoreham debacle. All the information you could possibly want on this issue was brilliantly covered by one of the greatest journalists in the area, Karl Grossman.

Shoreham was closed because even the Feds could not argue that Long Island had no effective evacuation plan, a vital issue for people who would have to either bottleneck through the biggest city in the U.S. or swim to Connecticut in the event of some disaster. That fear also applied to BNL. Soon, the HFBR was closed as well.

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