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Nuclear Power Neither Clean Nor Green

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  • Mike Neuman
    Nuclear Power Neither Clean Nor Green Wisconsin State Journal :: OPINION :: B2 Sunday, May 29, 2005 Al Gedicks The nuclear industry is now trying to change
    Message 1 of 1 , May 31, 2005
      Nuclear Power Neither Clean Nor Green
      Wisconsin State Journal :: OPINION :: B2
      Sunday, May 29, 2005
      Al Gedicks

      The nuclear industry is now trying to change negative public
      perceptions of nuclear power by promoting itself as the solution to
      global climate change. A guest column by Theodore J. Iltis
      proclaimed "Keep America green: Go nuclear." Iltis says that
      environmentalists who are concerned about the increase in greenhouse-
      gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels should embrace nuclear
      power because it does not produce carbon dioxide and thus does not
      contribute to global climate change.

      This commonly held view, endlessly repeated by proponents of nuclear
      power, ignores the fact that without uranium there is no nuclear
      power. The mining, milling and enrichment of uranium into nuclear
      fuel are extremely energy-intensive and result in the emission of
      carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
      The most intense mining and milling activity in the United States has
      been concentrated on the lands of Navajo and Pueblo Indians in the
      Grants Uranium Belt of northwest New Mexico.

      Before uranium can be used in nuclear power plants it must undergo a
      process of enrichment. Uranium enrichment plants are the largest
      industrial plants in the world and consume enormous amounts of
      electricity. Far from being "clean," each 1,000 megawatt-electric
      nuclear plant requires the equivalent of a 45 megawatt-electric coal
      plant -- which annually burns 135,000 tons of coal -- to supply its
      enrichment needs alone. The enrichment plant at Paducah, Ky.,
      requires the electrical output of two 1,000-megawatt coal-fired
      plants, which emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, the gas
      responsible for 50 percent of global warming. During its operation
      the enrichment plant at Piketon, Ohio, consumed 10 percent of Ohio's
      electricity, more than the entire city of Cleveland.

      Proponents of nuclear power likewise ignore the substantial emissions
      of radioactive radon gas and other radioactive elements from the
      mining and milling of uranium ore in underground and open pit mines.
      The Navajo and Pueblo Indians, along with several thousand white
      miners, were never told of the dangers from exposure to radon gas
      when they first entered those underground mines in Arizona and New
      Mexico in the 1950s. At least 450 former uranium miners have already
      died of lung cancer, five times the national average.

      For those communities living next to uranium mines there is the
      additional problem of exposures from radioactive tailings, the waste
      that remains after the uranium has been extracted from the ore and
      processed into yellowcake. The thorium in the tailings piles has a
      radioactive half-life of 80,000 years. In other words, while nuclear
      power plants will produce power for only about 40 years, the effects
      of mill tailings will remain for thousands of future generations.
      There are more than 200 million tons of these tailings in large piles
      around uranium mines and mills and they are emitting radioactive
      elements into the air and water. Communities near these tailings
      piles report a high rate of miscarriages, cleft palates and other
      birth defects, bone, reproductive, and gastric cancers as related
      health effects of uranium mining and exposure to contaminated air and

      And what about nuclear waste disposal? A typical nuclear reactor will
      generate 20 to 30 tons of high-level nuclear waste annually. There is
      no known way to safely dispose of this waste, which remains
      dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years. Iltis says
      the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada is an excellent choice for storage.
      The Western Shoshone Indians strongly disagree.

      They claim the land on which the federal government tested its atomic
      weapons and now plans to store 77,000 tons of military and power
      plant waste still belongs to them under the Ruby Valley Treaty of
      1863 . The federal government has tried to force the Western Shoshone
      to accept payment for the land and thus forfeit their claim to it.
      The tribe sued the federal government in March 2005, alleging the
      Yucca Mountain project would violate the treaty. To date, no Western
      Shoshone members have accepted payment for their land.

      The failure of nuclear proponents to address the disproportionate
      impact of nuclear activities on Native American populations has its
      origins in an environmental racism which justifies exposing certain
      groups to hazardous environmental conditions in the name of national
      security, economic progress or to avoid the perils of global climate
      change. Nuclear power is not green. It is not clean. And it is a
      continuation of the environmentally racist policies of the nuclear

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