What Will Work: Fighting Climate Change with Renewable Energy, Not Nuclear Power

By Kristin Shrader-Frechette | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Nuclear Energy and
Environmental Justice

Commercial atomic energy has many problems as a proposed solution to climate change (CC). Chapter 2 showed that its fuel-cycle greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions are roughly equal to those of natural gas, and many times higher than those of wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), and other renewable-energy sources. GHG emissions ratios, per kWhr of electricity, are roughly coal 60: gas 9: nuclear 9: solar 2: wind 1. Chapter 3 revealed that, provided one uses actual market and credit-rating data for cost assumptions and includes all fuel-cycle costs, nuclear fission is by far the most expensive source of current electricity, many times more expensive than wind, solar photovoltaic (PV), and other renewable energy sources. Chapter 4 likewise showed that atomic energy is unsafe. Accidents like those at Fukushima Daiichi, Japan; Chernobyl, Belarus; and Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, have caused up to a million deaths and additional health problems, and they help explain the government-guaranteed accident-liability limit, which forces nuclear-accident victims, not the industry, to cover 98 percent of worst-case-accident costs. Without this liability limit, industry says it would not use nuclear power.

Given the emissions, cost, and safety problems of fission, as documented in earlier chapters, it is easy to see why atomic energy is declining, why most banks refuse nuclear loans, why credit companies downgrade the credit rating of utilities with reactors, why fission can survive only if taxpayers pay most of its costs, and why accidents like Three Mile Island have caused so many fatalities. As the previous chapter explained, these fatalities occur partly because radiation has no safe dose and induces many cancers and genetic effects—such as increased rates of long-term, germ-line mutations, which in turn induce health problems, such as cancer, for hundreds of future generations.1

Even in cells not directly hit by ionizing radiation, exposure causes bystander effects and genomic instabilities. This means radiation increases mutation rates, raises propensity for disease in later generations, and weakens the human genome— not only in exposed cells, but also in unexposed cells, even many cell divisions and many generations after radiation exposure.2 Radiation’s delayed, transgenerational

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