Nuclear power is neither the answer to energy independence nor to national security issues. Despite what the nuclear industry says, plutonium and uranium won’t decrease the need for Middle East oil. Even though nuclear reactors do not generate carbon emissions, the mining, refining and disposal of radioactive material only serves to compound environmental problems – not help them.
Within every step of the nuclear power life-style lurks unresolved problems and dangers. The mining causes large scale disruption in remote areas that could otherwise be preserved as natural lands. Each mining site has enough radioactive waste for dirty bombs, but due to the remoteness of these locations, are hard to secure against intruders. Additionally, the refining of the plutonium and uranium is transportation intensive. Refinement and enrichment facilities are spread out around the world. Radioactive material must be shipped back and forth between continents, increasing the hazards of spillage.
The issues of petroleum and electricity are incorrectly discussed as one big bundle. The talk around energy independence is usually connected to our imports of Middle East oil. The oil received from places like Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is mainly used for cars. Nuclear energy isn’t used for cars. Until combustible engine are replaced by electric cars, nuclear power will not offset the need for foreign petroleum.
The United States hasn’t enriched radioactive material for a long time. It is this fact that has allowed us to take the high road with other countries with weapon-grade plutonium and uranium. If we were doing so, Iran and North Korea would have an easier time explaining their right to do the same. This would be true for other countries like Russia, China and India.
For two decades, we’ve slowly backed away from nuclear weapons, but if the United States started efforts again for enrichment (even if it’s “planned” usage is within nuclear reactors), we could easily start up the weapons race. Yet this time, it wouldn’t be between superpowers, which have a lot to lose in the way of people and economies. The new weapons race would include smaller, more unstable regions and nations with very little to lose or win.
The most frustrating aspect of the life-cycle for nuclear power is the storage of the long-lived, highly radioactive waste. Many countries require a million year guarantee for safe disposal. All suggested plans to accomplish this are completely unrealistic. To put this in context, consider this: 500,000 yrs ago, homo sapiens were only being to appear on earth. One million years ago, our minds had not developed well enough for language. We were still homo erectus. Notwithstanding the reality of evolution of human beings, geological change of land masses make no strategy for storage realistic for even 10,000 years.
The only redeeming quality for nuclear power is that no carbon is emitted during the actual energy production of electricity. Yet this is a small consolation to the hundreds and thousands of acres forever destroyed due to the mining sites, the refinement facilities and the reactors themselves – not to mention the acceptable levels of radioactive contaminants released by reactors. These acceptable levels have shown to cause cancer clusters in people around energy-production sites.
Nuclear energy is no good for solving the energy crisis we will face in the future. If we simply let a few educated folks tell us its part of the solution, we will be only creating more problems for ourselves and generations to come.