all the annals of spin, few statements are as misleading as Vice
President Cheney’s that the nuclear industry operates “efficiently,
safely, and with no discharge of greenhouse gases or emissions,”
or President Bush’s claim America’s 103 nuclear plants
operate “without producing a single pound of air pollution
or greenhouse gases.”
Even as the White House refuses to concede global warming is really
happening, it touts nuclear power as the answer to it, as if the
Administration was an arm of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)
whose advertisements declare, “Kids today are part of the most
energy-intensive generation in history. They demand lots of electricity.
And they deserve clean air.”
In reality, not only are vast amounts of fossil fuels burned to
mine and refine the uranium for nuclear power reactors, polluting
the atmosphere, but those plants are allowed “to emit hundreds
of curies of radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into
the environment every year,” Helen Caldicott points out in
her authoritative book
Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer.
What’s more, the thousands of tons of solid radioactive waste
accumulating in the cooling pools next to those plants contain “extremely
toxic elements that will inevitably pollute the environment and
human food chains, a legacy that will lead to epidemics of cancer,
leukemia, and genetic disease in populations living near nuclear
power plants or radioactive waste facilities for many generations
to come,” Caldicott writes. Countless Americans are already
dead or dying as a result of those nuclear plants.
Over half of the nation’s uranium deposits lie under Navajo
and Pueblo and and at least one in five tribal members recruited
to mine the ore were exposed to radioactive gas radon 220 and “have
died and are continuing to die of lung cancer,” Caldicott writes.
As for uranium tailings discarded in the extraction process, 265
million tons of it have been left to pollute the Southwest, even
though they contain radioactive thorium. At the same time, uranium
238, also known as “depleted uranium,”(DU) a nuclear plant
biproduct, “is lying around in thousands of leaking, disintegrating
barrels” at enrichment facilites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Portsmouth,
Ohio, and Paducah, Kentucky where ground water is too polluted to
Fuel rods at every nuclear plant leak radioactive gases or are routinely
vented into the atmosphere by plant operators. “Although the
nuclear industry claims it is ‘emission’ free, in fact
it is collectively releasing millions of curies annually,”
the Three Mile Island (TMI) meltdown on March 28, 1979, some 2,000
Harrisburg area residents settled sickness claims with General Public
Utilities Corp. and Metropolitan Edison Co., the owners of TMI.
Area residents’ symptoms included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,
bleeding from the nose, a metallic taste in the mouth, hair loss,
and red skin rash, typical of acute radiation sickness when people
are exposed to wholebody doses of radiation around 100 rads.
David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes nuclear
plant safety standards are lacking and predicted another nuclear
catastrophe in the near future, stating, “It’s not if
but when.” Not only are such plants unsafe but the spent fuel
is often hauled long distances through cities to waste storage facilities
where it will have to be guarded for an estimated 240,000 years.
In the 2005 Energy Bill, Congress allocated $13 billion in subsidies
to the nuclear power industry. Between 1948 and 1998, the U.S. government
subsidized the industry with $70-billion of taxpayer monies for
research and development— corporate welfare pure and simple.
About 17 million people live within a 50 mile radius of the two
Indian Point reactors in Buchanan, New York, 35 miles from Manhattan.
Suicidal terrorists, Caldicott noted, could disrupt the plant’s
electricity supply by ramming explosives into their Hudson River
intake pipes. Over time, the subsequent meltdown could claim an
estimated 518,000 lives.
Caldicott points out there are truly green and clean alternative
sources to nuclear power. She refers to the American plains as “the
Saudi Arabia of wind,” where readily available rural land in
several Dakota counties alone “could produce twice the amount
of electricity that the United States currently consumes.”
Now that sounds clean, green, and safe.
Ross is a Miami-based reporter who has contributed to such magazines
and has worked as
a speechwriter for progressive candidates.