POSTED: 18 JULY 2008 - 6:00am EST

No Nukes!

image above: Detail of diagram of Nuclear Power Plant. Click to enlarge and see whole.

by Thomas Kostigen on 17 July 2008 in

For all its advances, nuclear power still poses grave dangers.

A recent nuclear reactor leak in France proves that the world needs a clean and reliable source of alternative energy -- not power that produces hazardous waste.

Nuclear power has been gaining serious attention as the replacement energy source of fossil fuels: coal and petroleum. As the price of oil skyrockets and there is a global cry about the carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, nuclear is increasingly taking center stage. Vice President Dick Cheney is lobbying for more nuclear power plants to be built. Funding for nuclear has increased 79% in the current federal budget, and it extends loan guarantees for nuclear power programs. It also increased federal funds for nuclear waste research.

Even some environmentalists have embraced nuclear as a better choice than fossil fuels because it's ostensibly a "cleaner" source of energy. To be sure, the nuclear power industry has come a long way over the past two decades and plants now are indeed safer and power-derivation is more secure.

Some even say nuclear is better than other alternative energies such as wind and solar power because it's more sustainable, can be brought online faster, and is cheaper.

However, many fail to recognize that the government subsidizes nuclear power, directly and indirectly, through various programs. It also helps insure plants. Imagine the insurance premiums on a nuclear power plant. Under the Price-Anderson Act, the government has also limited the amount that nuclear reactor operators would have to pay in case of a nuclear accident.

The government also subsidizes other alternative energy sources (coal and oil still receive some government funding, too). The federal government had put a moratorium on certain new solar projects developed on public land this year, but public outcry forced it to reverse its position. Still, that action speaks volumes about the government's commitment to alternative energy sources other than nuclear. Congress even has failed to find a proper legislative solution for extending long-term tax credits for renewable energy.

This is rather shocking to me. When the sun, as I've often written, can produce enough power for all of our energy needs in a second -- literally -- why would we focus on or subsidize other alternatives? Solar and wind power are gifts from nature. We should take advantage of them. Yet we continue to embrace technologies that pose us significant danger.

Uranium leak in France
In France, Agence France-Presse reports that the country's ecology minister has called for tests of the ground water near all of the country's 58 nuclear reactors after a uranium leak at a plant in the south polluted the local water supply.

"Residents in the Vaucluse region of southern France have been told not to drink water or eat fish from nearby rivers after the liquid uranium spill on July 7 at the Tricastin nuclear plant," AFP reports. "I don't want people to feel that we are hiding anything from them," Jean-Louis Borloo said in a newspaper interview Thursday.

But people do.

The news hasn't much made it into the mainstream press here. (After all, Brad and Angelina had twins! Obviously any reporter in southern France had better things to do than report on something as dull as a nuclear power plant spill.)

It's high time we took the lid off alternative energy information and exposed each for what it is. We should look at the good, the bad, and the ugly. For too long the cost of energy (commodities in general, really) has been obfuscated, causing many of the price-hike problems we are in today. The Washington-based think-tank the Cato Institute claims we spent about six times as much money defending oil supplies in the Middle East as we spent on oil imports during the 1990s. Interesting.

We should get the truth behind the federal financing of nuclear power, and we should understand its disaster ramifications. Maybe the cost of nuclear, in terms of development and waste management, won't be as bad as many people think. Then again, maybe it will be worse.

I, for one, am risk-averse and am already calling for a recycling of a popular slogan from the 1970s and 80s: No Nukes!

see also:
Island Breath: KIUC Net Metering at %100 6/5/08
Island Breath: Kauai Over a Barrel 5/25/08