Industry's spotty safety record makes it a questionable solution
The writer is addressing the question, Should Congress authorize construction of nuclear power plants?
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.21.2008
By Wayne Madsen
WASHINGTONAmerica's twin crises of sky-rocketing energy costs and cat- astrophic climate change effects shouldn't be a convenient excuse to push nuclear power as a viable replacement for coal, oil and natural gas power-generating plants
The nuclear disaster at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 and the near-disaster at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 are reasons enough to strike nuclear power from the list of acceptable non-fossil and carbon energy sources.
The nuclear power industry has done little to nothing to improve the safety records of its plants. Recently, Vermont's Yankee nuclear power plant, owned by Entergy, experienced a cooling problem that forced it to shut down 50 percent of its power production. That shutdown came after repeated safety violations by the plant and a lack of adequate safety inspections.
The same scenario has played out across the country due to the infiltration of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by nuclear industry boosters and lawyers who have spiked and censored nuclear safety reports by the NRC's technical staff to favor the profits of the nuclear power plant operators over public safety interests.
In 2002, a hole due to corrosion developed in the reactor lid of the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in northwestern Ohio. The plant's operator, FirstEnergy Corp., and the NRC agreed that the reactor lid could have blown open in 60 days had the hole not been found.
The near-catastrophe at the Davis-Besse reactor could have rivaled that of Three Mile Island and the impact on Cleveland and other northern Ohio cities and towns could have been disastrous.
The poor nuclear safety record of America's nuclear power plant operators, especially during the laissez-faire regulatory holiday of the Bush administration, has not stopped GOP presumptive presidential candidate John McCain from waving the nuclear flag.
In 2004, the Palo Verde nuclear plant, 50 miles west of Phoenix, saw two of three units shut down due to radiation leaks from aging equipment. The NRC saw fit to approve continued operation of the faltering plant. In addition, radioactive water was found to have leaked into ground water around Palo Verde. Similar leaks into the water supply have been discovered at the Braidwood nuclear power plant near Chicago. The Union of Concerned Scientists' call for a major investigation of such leaks was ignored.
Nuclear power generation also generates nuclear waste. Currently, there are 55,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel in storage depots around the country awaiting transport through America's cities and small towns to a storage facility in Yucca Mountain in Nevada — despite the opposition of an overwhelming majority of Nevadans.
Nuclear power proponents argue that nuclear energy is a renewable energy source like solar, wind, bio-fuels and hydrogen. However, nuclear energy is neither renewable nor "green." From the uranium mining, processing, conversion and reprocessing phases, as well as spent nuclear fuel disposal, the impact on the environment in the event of an accident can last for hundreds of thousands of years.
The safety of the people of Vermont, northern Ohio, Arizona, Chicago and other parts of the country should not be negotiable by the nuclear power industry lobbyists who roam the halls of Congress.
Germany has nixed the future development of its nuclear power industry and a recent uranium leak into the water supply from a nuclear power plant near Avignon in southern France has all of Europe rethinking nuclear power.
Our Congress should follow the lead of Germany and permanently ban new nuclear power plant construction.
Wayne Madsen is a contributing writer to the progressive Online Journal, www.onlinejournal.com