The Myth of the Nuclear Renaissance via U.S. News

The game is already over for nuclear energy.

Dear editor,

Desperate times for the nuclear industry call for desperate rhetoric. Hence the reach, once again, for “renaissance,” even though the facts support no such thing and the industry itself dare not even resurrect the mythological moniker. [“The New Nuclear Renaissance,” 6/11/2016]

With nuclear power priced out of the market – not only by natural gas but, more importantly for climate, by renewables – die-hard nuclear proponents are dressing up old reactors in new propaganda.

Sodium-cooled, fast and even small modular reactors are all designs that have been around – and rejected – for decades.

Sodium-cooled reactors are prone to fires, explosions and super-criticality accidents. A rapid power increase inside the core of such a reactor could vaporize the fuel and blow the core apart. Far from “walk away safe,” these on-paper designs have not been submitted to the kind of rigorous “all scenarios” testing that could definitively designate them as meltdown proof.

The reactor that consumes its own radioactive waste as fuel is not the waste management panacea its sounds like. It could theoretically “transmute” wastes by reducing the proportion of long-lived isotopes contained in them. But radioactive fission products would remain, some of which are very long-lived. Management of these radioactive wastes would still be necessary for several hundred years. They would not magically vanish.


Sen. Cory Booker has cited asthma rates as his motivation for turning to nuclear. Yet studies have shown a 37 percent increase in leukemia rates among children living near nuclear power plants, hardly an acceptable alternative. Booker should also be concerned that many aspects of the nuclear fuel chain, especially uranium mining and waste dumps, tend to burden low-income communities of color.

The authors specifically mention “racing against China and Russia.” Is it coincidental both countries are fellow members of the nuclear weapons club and that at least one of the “new” reactor designs the authors tout, uses and produces plutonium, the key component of atomic weapons?

The real race the U.S. is letting China win is in the renewable energy field. China’s renewable investments in 2015 totaled $100 billion, according to the just released 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report,” more than five times the amount the country invested for new reactors, which was $18 billion.


If there is $1 billion to spare for energy “innovation,” why not spend it on renewables, energy sources that could not radioactively contaminate vast areas for decades, use no fuel and produce no waste? That would be truly “modern.”

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that bridged Medieval times to the so-called Early Modern Age. Like nuclear energy, it is of the past, not the future.

Linda Pentz Gunter
International specialist and director of media and development
Beyond Nuclear
Takoma Park, Maryland

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