Tag Archives: Caroline Hurley

Nuclear power is a regrets industry – Some facts

by Caroline Hurley

1. Esteemed international climate solutions organisation Project Drawdown cautions against relying on nuclear power compared to other solutions because “At Project Drawdown, we consider Nuclear Power a “regrets” solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but carries many concerns as well” – https://drawdown.org/solutions/nuclear-power

The five hundred odd nuclear power plants currently producing about 10 per cent of the world’s energy should be wound down for the serious and enduring liabilities they represent.

In 2023, the first nuclear power project in the U.S. featuring a small modular reactor was cancelled after a 53% surge in costs – https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Pioneering-Nuclear-Project-Gets-Canceled-After-Costs-Surge.html

The cost of Hinkley Point C, Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades, was originally priced at £16 billion. That made it the most expensive building in the world, and that was before costs began to spiral upwards. The latest estimate is that it will cost £32 billion. Promising lower bills with nuclear power makes no sense. Nuclear energy is the only type of energy whose production costs have been steadily soaring year after year.

2. Plant operations routinely release by-products: long-lived fission elements including radioactive plutonium-239, isotopes of iodine, caesium, radon and selenium, mixed in with minor actinides like curium and americium. Huge volumes of water are depleted. Safe nuclear waste storage methods have not yet been invented. Vitrification comes closest, where chemicals are extracted from high-level waste, folded into glass rods, put in sealed steel containers and then buried, in salt preferably, to delay melting, with fingers crossed. Deep geological disposal is proposed for long-term management but remains controversial, having to withstand up to millions of years of half-live releases, and entailing transport and other hazards. Lower-level waste is sealed in cement or recycled. This dooms future generations. If any kind of nuclear reactors had been constructed as part of the Stonehenge or Newgrange complexes, 21st century people would still have to manage the radioactive waste. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, about the size of County Kerry, will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of years, maybe more. It has expanded in recent years.

3. In a country where neutrality is still cherished, Ireland should oppose civilian nuclear facilities which elsewhere are repeatedly adopted for military purposes. Anything from 15,000 to 25,000 nuclear weapons and counting now burden the planet, from a cumulative production tally of about 130,000 bombs, most made in either America or Russia, and smaller numbers in up to thirty other countries. The US alone ran over a thousand nuclear bomb tests between 1945 and 1992, each more lethal than the last. Another thousand were carried out elsewhere. At least two hundred nuclear reactor accidents occurred, many non-reported, as Soviet authorities had hoped for Chernobyl. A 2019 Sellafield leak did not make the news.

4. Some sources directly attribute over two million human deaths to atmospheric nuclear testing. Negligence during tests in the 1950s, when milk was contaminated, earned the US government a guilty verdict by a judge in 1984. Record volumes of radiation released raised health risks for millions of people. The United Nations announced in 2000 that nuclear radioactivity has spread across the entire earth. Nature everywhere now bears the tattoo. The Anthropocene was born with detonation of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico Desert on July 16th, 1945, copper-fastening the Great Acceleration, of human progress and associated earth degradation. The revised standard to minimise dangerous releases is zero yield from sub-critical tests.

5. Joshua Frank, author of Atomic Days (2022), recalls the single largest anti-nuclear protest ever, which took place in New York City in September 1979 when an estimated 200,000 people rallied in Battery Park, calling for an immediate shut-down of Three Mile Island and an end to nuclear power proliferation globally. The global environmental movement sprang in large part from this era, which involved a very lively Irish element (Carnsore Point).

These invigorating actions, along with the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, put a halt to the construction of new nuclear plants in the United States. Since the accident, up to eighty per cent of Belarus children present with somatic pathologies, including deformities, cellular irregularities and age-inappropriate conditions like stroke, cardiac arrest, and neonatal cardiac cavities known as Chernobyl heart. Countless bodies of workers and patients absorbed isotopes sufficiently to classify them as walking radioactive waste. Plans for dozens of plants were shelved. By the mid-1980s the remarkably successful anti-nuclear power movement shifted its focus, joining the rapidly growing nuclear freeze movement, which was working to put the brakes on the global nuclear arms race.

6. How shameful that in the name of climate action, some are trying to undo this monumental success by prescribing nukes as a remedy? Of many reasons to oppose nuclear power. seven stand out: nuclear energy is not carbon neutral, huge mining impacts, nuclear power’s ties to atomic weapons, extreme waste issues, risks of accidents, and costs. See https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/09/09/the-case-against-nuclear-power-a-primer/

Numerous individuals and organisations have emerged in Ireland advocating for nuclear power as a major climate fix for a clean energy transition, particularly since, after a very close vote by lawmakers in July 2022, the European Parliament approved amended EU taxonomy rules labelling investments in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly. Some regard this as hijacking the EU’s key instrument of green policy, “openly accomplished through a campaign of misinformation conducted by the nuclear lobby.” – https://www.euronews.com/2023/08/25/sustainability-has-lost-its-meaning-as-the-nuclear-lobby-triumphs

Groups already participating in environmental projects around the country are being especially targeted to become poster-child converts to nuclear energy by industry influencers and Key Opinion Leaders, whose PR profiles are designed to project authority and trustworthiness. Lazarsfield’s milestone 1950s marketing study showed that driving consumer demand involves coaching “the effectiveness of interpersonal relations at each stage of the diffusion process”. It’s about capturing hearts and minds, even perhaps reassuring with convenient untruths, such as the claims made about reliable affordable small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), touted as solutions since the 1950s. The only one under construction in America was cancelled in 2023 due to unaffordability and, not counting just two prototypes under test, one in Russia and one in China, no other SMRs are in commercial use yet in the world.

However, if governments can be persuaded to take a risk on these boondoggles, whose record of breakdown and incidents contradict reliability claims, massive transfers of taxpayers’ money beckon. Governments also fall for other trade tricks, for example in France, the state had to buy electricity from a malfunctioning over-centralised energy sector, and run point heaters in summertime to destroy surplus electricity (for a fee) though produced and purchased, it could not be used anywhere. Intercountry grids will hardly address such warped bloats and glitches.

7. In their book, The Menace of Atomic Energy, published 50 years ago, Ralph Nader and John Abbotts revealed to readers that the person most responsible for developing American nuclear reactors, Dr Alvin Weinberg, admitted he would prefer solar energy if its cost could be brought down to less than 2.5 times the cost of nuclear energy. Solar panels can be installed quickly, with minimal disruption to nature. Methods to reduce the embodied energy used up in panels and improve end-of-life disposal progress steadily.

In 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) declared solar electricity the cheapest in history: at least four times cheaper than nuclear. Rare mention of nuclear energy being the most expensive signals the lobbying power of this massive miasmic industry.

In Germany, plans to open a nuclear reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf in Bavaria were discontinued in 1989 because of major public protests. The experience converted former lead nuclear exponent Dr Franz Alt to the benefits of renewable energy (RE). Alt coined the phrase, “solar panels for peace”, echoing President Eisenhower’s 1950s slogan, “atoms for peace”, referring to using fissile nuclear material for civilian electricity production not weapons. The monstrous consequences of accidents or conflict prove nuclear production poses a persistent security threat.

8. Decentralised energy independence based on 100% clean renewables is the eco alternative because, beyond its attraction as a target in the event of invasion, centralised electricity generation makes the grid unstable, and an unstable grid makes power supply unstable. Ireland with its already very centralised supply has a very high System Average Interruption Duration Index (the indicator of supply reliability), much higher than countries with a decentralised supply like Denmark or Germany. Local photovoltaic power generation means independence from burdensome or mistaken government and market forces.

Chronic above-average prices are predicted in the UK due to its large nuclear power plants and a lack of onshore Renewable Energy power plants. Power monopolies reinforcing their own dominance pose major threats to economies. Since Ireland’s electricity supply is linked to the UK grid, power price increases there are felt here.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) warned that crises such as the Ukraine war “makes it positively clear that we must invest in a secure, reliable, resilient, decentralized, democratic, and 100% clean and renewable energy system. Energy independence and climate change are both issues of national security”. Ending this dependency is urgent both on environmental and peace-and-justice grounds.

9. In her 2019 book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, Kate Brown shows that the US and other countries censored and destroyed evidence of radiation’s long-term biological toxicity, especially following low to moderate doses, which delay symptoms, meaning millions of impaired people are excluded from casualty counts. She hardly needed to mention the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ignominious but still extant 1959 agreement to desist from investigating and reporting the human health risks of nuclear radiation, made with US-sponsored nuclear advocate, the extremely powerful interest group, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Those who tried to probe atomic poisoning could find themselves fired, arrested or worse. The 2023 film La Syndicaliste gives a feel for what inquirers are up against. Such obstacles stymie the demand for proper wide-ranging studies into the actual consequences of massive lasting contamination of living beings. Brown’s retrieval of scattered reports by citizens, public servants and independent scientists whose perspectives clash with authority’s accounts of limited harm, sets the record straight. https://drb.ie/articles/were-all-hot-now/

In mid-sixties America, Dr John Gofman, cholesterol pioneer and inventor of the Linear Non-Threshold model, wondered about radiation’s impact on the human body, and initiated large-scale research. He and his colleague Dr Tamplin reviewed data from Japan’s Life-Span Study of atomic bomb victims. Observing how cancer and genetic injury so often succeeded radiation poisoning, Gofman and Tamplin concluded in1969 that safety guidelines for low-level exposure were way too high and recommended their reduction by ninety per cent. The US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) disputed the findings, and General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, promptly ordered confiscation of the exhaustive medical documentation used, depriving humanity of this unique trove.

As Brown recounts, result reports were destroyed in 1973, and another independent researcher, Thomas Mancuso, fired in 1977. In the 1990s, Joseph Lyon encountered insider obstruction when gathering statistics for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on elevated sickness after Nevada tests: a further example of the high-level sabotage Brown repeatedly detected. Experts finally agreed in 1996 they were wrong, some might say criminally, to doubt the severity and prevalence of radioactive diseases in Chernobyl. Rather than safety guidelines being lowered, however, the trend is to raise them farther after each big nuclear event affecting populations and their homes, foods and workplaces, as if the logistics of sane response otherwise is too overwhelming. 2023 research confirms the disproportionately high and cumulative persistence of radioactive contamination – https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.3c03565#

Acknowledging Gofman’s work, the National Academy of Science carried out an enormous study on the biological effects of ionising radiation, or BEIR, for short. Findings confirmed warnings sounded by Gofman, yet even his advice to at least locate nuclear plants away from built-up areas was ignored.

10. The radiation that can cause severe burns, systemic sickness and death makes up fifteen per cent of a nuclear bomb’s output. Just fifty of today’s bombs could kill two hundred million people. In 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences invented the Doomsday Clock. Sixty years later, in 2007, the minute hand moved forward two minutes, from seven to five minutes to midnight. Ten years later, in 2017, it advanced another two and a half minutes due to extra risks from nuclear terrorism, rogue state arms acceleration and general nuclear renewal. Since 2023, it’s closer again, at 90 seconds to midnight. The taxonomy listing nuclear energy as green is emboldening for greenwashing companies. Who wouldn’t love a hazard-free clean energy? It’s like magic – until a closer look is taken. State services should ensure adequate and independent expertise is in place to compel transparency, corporate governance, and public awareness and safety. Instead, opinion formers flourish as they exhort people to be optimistic about a future presented as high-tech, nature-blind, urban and ever more prosperous. Realistically though, since the nuclear industry inhabits the same business spaces as fossil fuel companies, simply choose nuclear to increase humanity’s chance of soonest going broke, economically, environmentally and morally, on the way to midnight and extinction.

Finally, an important reference is the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2023