ou might be wondering if nuclear is as clean as benchmark renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. Should we consider nuclear waste? I think that is obvious. What about environmental impact from natural disasters or terrorism? What about the rest of nuclear’s carbon footprint versus wind and solar’s — the materials and construction required?
Here are several points to consider:
- The resources that go into a 10 year nuclear plant construction project include: 400,000 cubic yards of concrete (amount used to build the Pentagon) and 66,000 tons of steel (amount used to build the Empire State Building). All those materials need to be mined, manufactured and transported.
- The need to run fossil-fuel burning heavy equipment during the 6 to 10 year construction process for a nuclear plant.
- Although rare, an accident or a natural disaster can be catastrophic. Currently, Japan’s Fukushima plant is dealing with a cleanup that will include dumping nuclear waste into the ocean starting in 2017. How will that affect Japanese fishing and other jobs, and especially, their ocean? Natural disasters will continue to happen with or without our help.
- Proposed recycling / reprocessing nuclear waste plants (available in 10 to 20 years) would not reduce overall waste inventories. Recycling / reprocessing nuclear waste creates a 20+ times increase in overall volume. Although less radioactive, it’s a diluted material that must be stored for at least 500 years. That’s 20 generations.
- Hacking the power grid and crippling a nuclear power plant is a real and growing threat. Iran and South Korea nuclear plants were recently hacked. It is widely believed that many global nuclear plants and power grids may already be infiltrated by foreign interests.
- Terrorists storming a nuclear power plant or getting their hands on spent fuel are real threats, especially in unstable regions, which are currently expanding in parts of the Middle East. There have been 18 known incidences of theft or loss of uranium and plutonium worldwide and this threat is growing.
No, nuclear is not clean, and distributed nuclear material is not even close to clean. Nuclear has shown the potential to be far worse.
Read more at Nuclear: Is It Clean and Green?