Nuclear Power and WastE
What is it and what’s wrong with it?
American pro-nuclear advocates and scientists say that nuclear power will decrease US dependency on foreign oil. Across the world, nuclear power is touted as a safe and economical energy source that can reduce global fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide (C02) emissions.
Most nuclear power plants rely on nuclear fission to generate energy. Put simply, nuclear fission is a process in which radioactive atoms naturally split into two and release large quantities of energy. In a nuclear power plant, rods of enriched radioactive elements (typically Uranium-235) are submerged in water, which generates steam, which then turns a turbine, generating electricity.
The United States is the world’s number-one producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30 percent of worldwide nuclear energy generation. The country has 100 operating reactors, which produce approximately 19 percent of the nation’s total electrical output, following coal (43 percent) and natural gas (24 percent).
Nuclear waste is a natural byproduct of nuclear fission. This waste, for which we have no safe means of disposal, contaminates the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. Radiation from nuclear material is known to cause death, cancer, and other health problems, damaging the gene pools of living beings (humans, animals, and plants) for generations.
Recent research shows that women are more adversely affected by nuclear radiation than men (women are twice as likely to get cancer from the radiation exposure than men, and twice as likely to die from cancer as well), yet the standards set for "acceptable levels of radioactive exposure" are based on that of an adult white male body. Children are even more vulnerable to radiation than adults, and female children even more so than male children. Infants and fetuses are most vulnerable of any group to the risks of cell damage and death by radiation.
In addition to these negative health consequences, nuclear waste, nuclear spills, and the extraction of uranium from the earth pollutes and destroys the environment, contaminating air, land, and water.
The Fukushima (2011), Chernobyl (1986) and Three Mile Island (1983) meltdowns demonstrate the high risks involved with nuclear accidents. Fukushima (which was a triple meltdown) remains an ongoing problem, contaminating air, land, water, and food. Currently, the Japanese population is experiencing an epidemic-like outbreak of thyroid problems in children living in close proximity to the now-defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Immense quantities of toxic, radioactive water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean every day. Large amounts of radioactive water remain stored unsafely on sight. The storage pool in Reactor #4 hangs by a thread in a collapsing building. Spent fuel rods are now being removed one-by-one, manually. The task is highly dangerous and should an accident occur, thousands of lives would be at risk.
Though nuclear disasters seem to get most prominent attention in the press, the reality is that all nuclear power plants leak and none are fully protected against the possibility of a meltdown. The lifespan of a nuclear plant is limited and the cost of decommissioning old plants is immense. American nuclear companies are not economically prepared for decommissioning and there is no place to safely store the tremendous amount of nuclear waste accumulated worldwide.
There is also the problem of contamination to the land from uranium mining. Sites in Niger, Namibia, India, Canada and several Native American communities in the U.S. have been widely polluted in the process of extracting this lethal material.
What’s been done?
Anti-nuclear advocates are currently fighting this dangerous source of energy. In addition to exposing the risks, activists also dispel the misconception that nuclear power is carbon free: in reality, the construction of nuclear plants contributes significantly to carbon pollution. Organizations such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and individual activists such as Bill McKibben, Dr. Michio Kaku, Dr. Mark Jacobsen, Dr. Timothy Musseau, Dr. Arjan Mukhajani, Dr. Helen Caldicott, and others contend that the health risks and immense dangers associated with nuclear accidents, leaks, and waste produced by reactors (for which we have no means of safe disposal) do not outweigh the benefits.
Many Japanese citizens have sprung to action since 3/11/11. Despite censorship issues sometimes threatening to silence them, concerned Japanese activists continue to release information about Fukushima to the Public. Check out Iori Mochizuki’s blog, “Fukushima Diary,” in which he details the ongoing effects of the 2011 nuclear catastrophe.
What can you do?
-Use the Public Citizen Foundation’s handy action guide for how to fight nuclear power: presenting nuclear facts, submitting letters to newspaper editors, conducting media interviews, and contacting/meeting with public and government officials.
-Tell the FDA and the Federal Government that food, especially seafood, here in the US MUST be adequately tested for radioactivity, and that the standards for which food is deemed unsafe must be made more stringent. Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network (FFAN) makes it easy: see here.
learn more here:
-Union of Concerned Scientists’ “Nuclear Power” resources
-The Wall Street Journal’s “Waste Lands” database
AMA Responds to Radioactive Seafood, FFAN Urges FDA Action NOW (press release, July, 23, 2013)
Japan’s Nuclear Refugees, Still Stuck in Limbo by Martin Fackler, The NY Times (2013)
Plummeting Morale at Fukushima Daiichi as Nuclear Cleanup Takes its Toll by Justin McCurry, The Guardian (2013)
Ten Strikes Against Nuclear Power, Green America (2012)
The Medical Implications of Fukushima by Helen Caldicott (2013)
What are the Effects of Radiation on Humans? What is Radiation Poisoning? by Christian Nordquvist, Medical News Today (2011)
About a Mountain by John D’Agata (2011)
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser (2013)
Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell (2013)
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich and Keith Gessen (2006)
On the Beach (1959)
Countdown to Zero (2009)
Into Eternity (2009)
The Day After (1983)
The Atomic States of America (2011)
The China Syndrome (1979)
Most Hazardous Material On the Planet Leaking at US Nuclear Site (Recent update on Hanford Site, 2013.)
Meltdown at Three Mile Island (PBS, 1999)
My interview with Dr. Caldicott (Which I conducted just seven months after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in October 2011.)