Members want safe and healthy communities in which to live, smart energy solutions to combat global warming, and an enduring legacy for America’s wild places
The Sierra Club opposes the expansion of nuclear power in the United States with current regulations. Given the current crisis in Japan, could the United States ever change its policies enough to make nuclear power a viable alternative? The Sierra Club has opposed nuclear energy since 1974, as it is too dangerous, too expensive and too slow to be a viable energy source that can effectively address climate change. As the tragedy in Japan shows us, nuclear has serious, unresolved safety issues involving waste storage and operations, not to mention mining and weapons. Even the most technologically advanced nations are unable to overcome these obstacles. In addition, investing billions in nuclear diverts limited funds to counter climate change with safer, cleaner more effective alternatives such as energy efficiency, upgrading our grid, or renewables like wind and solar.
Someone asked about the process of decommissioning a plant, which involves finding permanent storage locations for waste and plant components. I don’t know the details of this process, but I do know that the cost was projected to be over a billion dollars for the Vermont Yankee plant, which I could imagine ratepayers paying for.
Nuclear Energy: A Solution to Climate Change or A Dangerous Distraction? Shahla Werner, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter 222 South Hamilton St, #1, Madison, WI 53703 (608) 256-0565 http://wisconsin.sierraclub.org [email_address]
Over the past 250 years, increased concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gases have caused the Earth’s climate to warm 1.4 degrees F, glaciers to shrink, plant and animal ranges to shift and changes in plant phenology.
Fossil fuel burning is largely responsible for this problem.
Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are major causes of climate change since 1750. The current 386 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest level it has been in the past 650,000 years. Although other greenhouse gases like methane may have more heat trapping potential, they are far less abundant in the atmosphere and their retention time is far shorter than CO2.
Top Carbon Dioxide Emitters Although China now emits more CO2 than the US, their per capita emissions are 4.6 tons/capita vs our 19.6
Nuclear energy supplies 20% of US electricity from 104 reactors.
Nuclear power proponents argue that nuclear plants are needed to produce carbon-free “base-load” power. “Emission-free” refers to any generating source that does not produce emissions of CO2, NOx, or SO2 during its operations. But it ignores carbon emissions from uranium mining and enrichment.
Building 100 new nuclear reactors would take at least a decade and require a capital investment of $250 billion to $1 trillion and would only reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12%.
The Sierra Club opposes the licensing, construction and operation of new nuclear reactors utilizing fission, pending:
Development of adequate national and global policies to curb energy over-use and unnecessary economic growth.
Resolution of the significant safety problems inherent in reactor operation, disposal of spent fuels , and possible diversion of nuclear materials capable of use in weapons manufacture.
Establishment of adequate regulatory machinery to guarantee adherence to the foregoing conditions. The above resolution does not apply to research reactors.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, December 12-13, 1974
Nuclear Energy Safeguards = Common Sense Protections
Before a new nuclear plant can be built, WI law (Wisc. Stat. 196.493) requires that 1) there is a federally-licensed facility to dispose of high-level radioactive waste, and 2) The PSC finds that a nuclear power plant is the least cost option for Wisconsin ratepayers
Federally, the Price Anderson Act forces the federal government to cover the insurance payouts for nuclear accidents that exceed $12.6 billion.
Removing safeguards saddles taxpayers with financial and safety risks of nuclear power
Nuclear power requires water to absorb the waste heat left over after making electricity, and to cool equipment used in generating electricity.
Nuclear reactors are about 33% efficient. For every three units of thermal energy generated by the reactor core, one unit of electrical energy goes out to the grid and two units of waste heat go into the environment. (Source, UCS)
Water could be come scarce as a result of global warming. Even in closed systems where water re-circulates, replenishment is needed to make up for water lost as vapor.
Uranium Mining Risks 25 tons of uranium are needed to fuel a reactor for a year. This requires 500,000 tons of waste rock and 100,000 tons of mill tailings. Tailings contain uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and emit radon-222. They remain toxic for thousands of years. Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. - David Thorpe, Guardian UK , December 2008.
Ordinary natural uranium contains only 0.72% U-235 and 99.3% U-238. Gaseous diffusion is used to enrich Uranium in the US (Paducah, KY). Centrifuge separation is used in Iran.
Enrichment to fissionable U235 results in leftover depleted U238.
Although depleted uranium munitions have been used extensively by the US Military, WHO and VA studies have not found lasting health impacts on kidneys or lung function.
Uranium Enrichment: Same Process for Energy and Weapons There is global concern over Iran’s efforts to enrich Uranium (currently at 7%). 90% U-235 is required for weapons. A “nuclear renaissance” could result in more nuclear weapons worldwide.
Three Mile Island, Middletown, PA : On March 28, 1979, the nuclear core partially melted down (the core heated up to 5,000 F and a large hydrogen bubble formed in the reactor). Small quantities of xenon and iodine radioisotopes were released.
Elevated thyroid cancer rates have been observed in Lancaster and York (but not Dauphin Counties) since 1995.
Chernoble, Ukraine, April 26, 1986 : While conducting a test, operators disabled safety equipment which led to reactor explosions and meltdown.
The accident resulted in 56 immediate deaths and elevated cancer incidence (estimates vary from 4,000, UN International Atomic Energy Agency Chernobyl Forum report to 270,000, Greenpeace based on cancer data from Belarus).
Chernobyl and surrounding evacuated areas remain ghost towns to this day.
Earthquake and tsunami (9.0) struck northern Japan March 11, leaving 10,489 dead and over 17,000 missing.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: Over heating, radiation leaks, fires, and hydrogen explosions at several of the six reactors. Now trying fresh, rather than sea water to cool reactor 3, which is smoking. Spent fuel rods exposed, in reactor 4. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/world/asia/reactors-status.html
Long term impacts unknown , monitors unreliable. We do know: evacuations beyond 10 miles, extended blackouts, contaminated food and water- even in Tokyo, radioactive material that has breached its containment area in several reactors (burning 3 workers).
The OH plant, which has since reopened, was closed in 2002 after a worker found that a boric acid leak had nearly eaten through the reactor’s 6-inch-thick steel cap. The NRC had missed a deadline for plant inspection.
In 2003, the plant’s computer system was infected with a worm virus. The incident allegedly “did not pose a safety hazard”.
Every reactor creates 20 tons of radioactive waste per year, which must be isolated for thousands of years. The federal government has not found a permanent storage site. It currently sits in temporary storage in 39 states. Yucca Mtn no longer considered.
The Obama administration recently created a 15-member commission (headed by former congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft) on nuclear waste storage, including alternatives to Yucca Mountain.
Nuclear waste is stored in dry casks — steel-lined concrete silos that require no liquid cooling or forced ventilation — and those are licensed for 20 years. At three plants, the licenses have been extended for another 20.
1,365 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored at the Point Beach and Kewaunee nuclear plants (nationwide dry cask storage is at 47,000 metric tons). Waste is also stored on the Mississippi in Genoa, WI and at the Prairie Island Plant in MN.
Metal parts of such casks can begin corroding in weeks if salt hits them, the NRC has found.
Edward F. Sproat III, said, “you can’t keep that stuff in those canisters forever. They’re not designed that way.”
In 2007, 50-100 gallons of radioactive waste leaked at the Hanford, WA nuclear waste storage site. This site covers about 560 square miles in south-central Washington, and contains the nuclear waste from the production of weapons.
In 2008, 7,925 gallons of low-grade uranium leaked at the Tricastin facility near Marseilles. Three Rivers, including the Rhone, were contaminated. France is now examining water near all of its plants.
In 2009, thousands of liters of radioactive waste leaked into the Firth of Clyde from the Hunterston nuclear power station in Scotland.
In Feb 2010, Radio Netherlands reported that two drums at the nuclear reactor near the Dutch town Petten leaked radioactive waste
Building a Smart grid: consuming devices talk to producing devices: storage devices, smart meters. Our grid needs upgrades either way. Upgrading costs $900 billion over the next 20 years (but DOE estimates that it could save $46-117 billion).
Solar and wind integration (sun shines during the day, wind blows more at night). Back up with hydro, natural gas, biomass
In 2009, when asked about new coal and nuclear plants, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Wellinghoff said, "we may not need any ever." He then said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future demands. He added, "People talk about, 'Oh, we need baseload.' It's like people saying we need more computing power, we need mainframes. We don't need mainframes, we have distributed computing."
Carries significant, long-term environmental and health risks
Is very expensive; require taxpayer subsidies
Take too long to reduce climate change
Diverts billions of dollars from true low carbon solutions like efficiency and renewables.
Taxpayers shouldn't be asked to take a risk Wall Street is not willing to take.
“ As a species, we must back the right horse and stop being misled by the coal industry's delaying tactics. There's a big opportunity cost in time and resources to going down the wrong path.” - Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Treehugger , 2006