Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Our Friend the Atom? the Growing Threat from Nuclear Power

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Our Friend the Atom? the Growing Threat from Nuclear Power

Article excerpt

The Bush administration and the nuclear industry are embarking on an ill-conceived "renaissance" of nuclear power, deploying the spurious message that it is emissions-free, green, safe, and will save the world from the effects of global warming. Wrong, on all counts!

Carbon dioxide gas--the increase of which is tied to global warming--is released at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle: uranium mining and milling, uranium enrichment, construction of huge concrete reactors, and the transportation and long-term storage of intensely radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants currently generate "only" one-third as much carbon dioxide as a similar-sized energy plant fired by natural gas. But because the supply of highly concentrated uranium ore is limited, the energy eventually required to mine and enrich uranium will greatly increase. If global electricity production were converted to nuclear power, there only would be a three-year supply of accessible uranium to fuel the reactors.

Nuclear reactors routinely emit radioactive materials, including the fat-soluble noble gases xenon, krypton, and argon. Although not chemically reacting with biological compounds, they are inhaled by populations near reactors, absorbed into the blood, and concentrated in the fat pads of the abdomen and upper thighs, which exposes ovaries and testicles to mutagenic gamma radiation.

Tritium, a form of radioactive hydrogen, is also regularly discharged by reactors. Combining with oxygen to form tritiated water, it absorbs readily through skin, lungs, and gut. Tritium is a dangerous carcinogen that produces congenital malformations and genetic deformities in low doses in animals and, by extrapolation, in humans.

ADDITIONALLY, NUCLEAR reactors are potential terrorist targets. Reactor meltdowns could be induced by severing the external electricity supply, disrupting the 1-million-gallons-per-minute intake of cooling water, infiltrating the control room, or by a well-coordinated attack. Surprisingly, since Sept. 11 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to upgrade security at the nation's 103 nuclear reactors. A meltdown at the Indian Point reactors, located 35 miles from Manhattan, could render the region uninhabitable for thousands of years.

Nuclear waste is the industry's Achilles" heel. Currently 60,000 tons of radioactive waste are stored temporarily in cooling pools beside nuclear reactors, awaiting final disposal. …

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