Facing up to the world’s energy crisis is a major challenge facing us in the 21st Century. Educating a global population to look towards alternatives to fossil fuels is a priority.
But continued use and expansion of nuclear power is not an alternative. Chernobyl, Fukushima, and now Washington – provide warnings of the danger of using nuclear fission to derive energy, and the further risks from long term storage of nuclear waste. The argument often offered is that nuclear energy is more cost effective than sustainable energy (such as solar, wind, tide, geothermal or wave energy) . Yet support for nuclear energy on financial grounds is flawed. EU calculations for financing nuclear expansion for mining of Uranium in the Ukraine ignores the cost of disposal of the toxic waste . Following Fukushima, the The World Bank estimated the cost of the nuclear crisis at $235bn (£144bn) making it one of the world’s most expensive disasters. The truth is that nuclear power in not cost effective when the cost of extraction of uranium and the cost of storage of highly dangerous waste.
Nuclear waste can continue to emit radiation for centuries, and it could potentially become unstable, if handled and stored improperly, setting off a chain reaction which could create a nuclear accident.
This waste will remain dangerous for millions of years, and we add to it every day.
So exactly how long does nuclear waste remain?
From Greenpeace website:
“Plutonium 239 has a half-life of approximately 24,000 years. That means that after 24,000 years half of the radioactivity contained in the plutonium will have decayed. However, the hazardous life of radioactive waste is at least ten times the half-life, therefore these wastes will have to be isolated from the environment for 240,000.”
The current statement by the US government is that nuclear waste should be considered dangerous for 1,000,000 years, but I have not seen a reason for this number. A better number, because the standard can be easily understood, comes from the European Union. This is that nuclear waste should be considered dangerous until it is no more radioactive than naturally occurring uranium ore, which is 6,000,000 years.
It has been recently reported (BBC) that nuclear waste is leaking from tanks in Washington.
- Six underground storage tanks at a nuclear site in the US state of Washington are leaking at a rate of up 300 gallons (1,136 litres) per year.
- Nearly 200 ageing containers hold millions of litres of radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
- Established as part of the Manhattan Project in 1943, Hanford was home to the world’s first full-scale plutonium production facility.
- It was part of America’s bid to build the world’s first nuclear weapon during World War II.
- The site produced the plutonium for the bomb that was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Production at Hanford continued until 1989.
Clearing up this waste will be costly. The issue with nuclear waste is that serves no peaceful purpose, yet remains dangerous for many centuries and continues to emit radiation. No matter how we are reassured of the safety of Nuclear Power, accidents happen, and accidents are more likely happen when costs are cut, where profit is the motive.
If nuclear waste were to fall into the wrong hands, it could be used to make a dirty bomb, which could spread radiation over an inhabited area.
To add to risk for continued use of nuclear power is madness and total unnecessary. The truth is that our energy requirements can be met by wind, solar, wave, HEP, geothermal and tidal. While Germany is rejects nuclear power , the UK lags behind.
The UK is on a similar latitude and has additional resources Germany does not have. There is an enormous source of tidal power at the mouth of the River Severn, and miles of coasts surrounding our islands which could harness wave power.
Without doubt, we must halt the damage to the world’s climate by the use of carbon-emitting fuels. But to look from one disaster to another is ludicrous, and unnecessary. That we should risk accidents, from geological disaster or terrorism, a dependence on nuclear energy for the future is madness. The risk to life is so huge it should not be contemplated.
- REUTERS: Nuclear waste leaking from six tanks at Washington star nuclear site.
- BBC: Nuclear Waste leaking from Washington site
- Wiki How long does nuclear waste last for?
- BBC: Germany announces non-nuclear
- Think Left Some of the Scientific Evidence – Climate Change
- ITV Boost to Britain’s nuclear plans
- Labour Party: Ed Miliband: By Tackling Climate Change we can be better off together
- Think Left: The Energy Trap
- Renewable Energy, Specifically HVDC Power Grids
- EU: Ignoring safety risks in financing nuclear expansion in Ukraine
- South West Against Nuclear
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I wonder if there aren’t unexplored ways of getting rid of nuclear waste?
The americans (and no doubt others) have scattered container loads of waste by shipping it out and dumping it in the shallower pacific basin – vile and desperately irresponsible.
I wonder though, if it can’t be dumped into the deepest ocean trenches. Properly contained in glass, concrete and steel, it ought to be possible to avoid unstable concentrations.
If it was dumped into subduction trenches – say under licence from Puerto Rico for their trench (which would benefit their economy). It’d be deep enough away for surface safety, and eventually would be sub-ducted into the Earth’s mantel. The metals are heavy, but we’d want convincing that they wouldn’t likely spew from future volcanism.
Just a thought …
Either way, fission is at the very best only a stop-gap for our energy needs.
(greatly prefer tidal power)
Sadly I know that you are right in respect of nuclear power but with this and previous governments taking the easy option and going for short term energy fixes I fear that we may not have a choice in the future.
The right wing idiots of the Tory party are taking every opportunity to stop wind power and no doubt they will react similarly when other sustainable technologies are explored.
All this leads me to think that financial powers are at work behind the scenes looking to exploit this dilemma of our own making, by hiking up the costs of whatever solution is eventually decided upon either by enormous subsidies to sustainable options or inflated build and risk measures with nuclear power.
Think Left has not written about this as much as we could/should. I totally agree that financial/corporate powers are doing their best to commodify/financialise climate change, and also hold on to their political clout by centralising energy production. Climate change/natural disaster is an ‘opportunity’ for the 0.14% superrich elite.. it is the poor that will suffer not themselves.
This is the bad side of nuclear power. Which methods of of providing future future energy supplies would you approve of?
Solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal ….
Perhaps the area that is most fruitful for dealing with future energy demands is to look at the reductions in power demand. better insulation and more efficient electrical devices would significantly reduce the need for so much energy, but of course this would significantly reduce the profits that could be made by the 0.14% super rich elite.
So this will not happen even though it would make the planet habitable for a little while longer.
Just as a follow up has any read today’s “Torygraph” (not a thing I make a habit of doing mind you but I could not resist the headline “Wind farms will create more carbon dioxide, warn scientists”)
A scientific report has concluded that building wind farms will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed by wind farms due to the need to put in some infrastructure such as access roads. All seems quite reasonable.
Who but the “Torygraph” in its campaign to stop wind farms in the countryside would print such a misleading headline and then through the an article by one Andrew Gilligan attempt to spin it in such a manner as to make it seem almost as bad as nuclear power?
Very good points Chris. We need to ‘power down’ as well as ‘power up’ energy production from renewables. None of this is difficult to do.. it is the political will and the stranglehold of the power companies. Several years ago, the Centre for Alternative Technologies produced a blueprint as to how we could implement Zero Carbon Britain by 2030 but the spin is that this wouldn’t work/too difficult/too expensive etc. (lack of investment for ‘clean coal’ is because they know that renewable energy will rapidly become much cheaper.. its in their feasibility study reports)
There is a plethora of peer-reviewed literature indicating the many schemes that could be implemented to ensure energy provision. All involve a linking together of different renewables eg using hydroelectricity as a storage for peak demand.. but the Tories and torygraph deliberately only talk about windfarms! Scientists for global responsibility have produced estimates for the power that could be generated from solar, tidal, geothermic and so on which indicates that the UK could be a net producer of electricity.
Of course, the most efficient energy production is that which is produced next to the place that it is used and I believe that it is the microgeneration of energy that frightens them the most. It removes not only profits but political control from the big six.
Btw Africa is extremely rich in potential renewable resources. 90km2 of concentrated solar in the Sahara could provide enough energy for the whole of the EU and desalinated water as a by-product. The Congo river contains enough energy to power 1/8th of the global demand. So why is Africa still so poor? Its politics. Why are the Egyptians wanting nuclear power? its politics.
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