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

By Kristin Shrader-Frechette | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Conclusions

One of the earliest lessons that children learn is to pick up after themselves. One of the earliest lessons that parents learn is not to reward children who fail to pick up after themselves. Otherwise, children may never learn to do so. As this book has shown, those who have been building nuclear plants have not learned this lesson children are taught, and governments—all of whom massively subsidize those reactors—have not learned this lesson parents come to understand.

As University of London economist David Fleming points out, the nuclear industry has not cleaned up its mess from uranium mining, milling, fuel fabrication, decommissioning closed reactors, and permanently securing the backlog of radioactive waste and spent fuel. Yet utilities are allowed to build new atomic-energy plants—before the half-century-old nuclear mess has been cleaned up. In fact, governments have even rewarded nuclear industries, whose messes have not yet been cleaned up, by giving them taxpayer subsidies for more reactors—subsidies that cover 60–90 percent of nuclear-electricity costs, as chapter 1 showed. This is like loaning more money to someone who has not repaid you, like rewarding a child who ignores repeated requests to clean up his room, like loaning money to someone who has repeatedly filed for bankruptcy. Such behavior appears neither ethically nor economically defensible. The problem is not only that industries and governments should clean up their nuclear messes before making new ones, but also that cleaning up these messes would explicitly reveal that atomic energy is both uneconomical and self-defeating. It requires nearly as much energy, in the various stages of its fuel cycle, including cleanup, as it actually produces. Government fission subsidies, and failure to clean up this cycle, obscure the real energy and economic costs of nuclear power. Yet as chapter 2 revealed, Fleming calculates that roughly onequarter of reactor-electricity production is required to pay back the front-end, nuclear-energy debts from mining, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and reactor construction; that another one-quarter is required to pay the back-end energy debts of reactor decommissioning, enrichment and other facility clean-up, permanent waste storage, and so on; and that another one-quarter is required to process and store the backlog of existing wastes.1 This means that three-fourths (75 percent) of current nuclear-energy electricity production is needed for energy payback to the nuclear

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