Nuclear power

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Nuclear power poses multiple threats to people and the environment. These include health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, the unsolved problem of nuclear waste, and the possibility of further serious accidents.[1][2] Nuclear power as a dangerous, expensive way to boil water to generate electricity.[3]

Opponents of nuclear energy make connections between the international export and development of nuclear power technologies and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The facilities and expertise to produce nuclear power can be readily adapted to produce nuclear weapons.[4][5] Greenpeace suggests that nuclear power and nuclear weapons have grown up like Siamese twins. Since international controls on nuclear proliferation began, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all obtained nuclear weapons, demonstrating the link with nuclear power programs.[1]

Nuclear power plants are very expensive.[4][6] Making reliable cost estimates is difficult, and estimates for new reactors in the USA range from $5 billion to $10 billion per unit. Building nuclear plants is seen to be "a risky business", according to several notable credit rating agencies and investment analysts.[6]

Because nuclear power has always been a technology which requires and employs specialists, some individuals view it as an elitist technology.[7] Nuclear power is centralised energy, in both a physical and political sense. It allows a small number of scientific, political and economic elites to make key decisions about energy.[4]

Nuclear power plants are some of the most sophisticated and complex energy systems ever designed.[8] Any complex system, no matter how well it is designed and engineered, cannot be deemed failure-proof. This is especially true if people are required to operate controls that dictate how the system functions.[9] Stephanie Cooke has reported that:

The reactors themselves were enormously complex machines with an incalculable number of things that could go wrong. When that happened at Three Mile Island in 1979, another fault line in the nuclear world was exposed. One malfunction led to another, and then to a series of others, until the core of the reactor itself began to melt, and even the world's most highly trained nuclear engineers did not know how to respond. The accident revealed serious deficiencies in a system that was meant to protect public health and safety.[10]

Nuclear accidents are often cited by anti-nuclear groups as evidence of the inherent danger of nuclear power.[4] The worst nuclear accident in history is the Chernobyl disaster. Other serious nuclear and radiation accidents include the Mayak disaster, Soviet submarine K-431 accident, Soviet submarine K-19 accident, Chalk River accidents, Windscale fire, Costa Rica radiotherapy accident, Zaragoza radiotherapy accident, Goiania accident, Church Rock Uranium Mill Spill and the SL-1 accident.[11][12]

Greenpeace contends that the risks from operating nuclear reactors are increasing and the likelihood of an accident is now higher than ever:

Most of the world’s reactors are more than 20 years old and therefore more prone to age related failures. Many utilities are attempting to extend their life from the 40 years or so they were originally designed for to around 60 years, posing new risks.[1]

New so-called passively safe reactors have many safety systems replaced by ‘natural’ processes, such as gravity fed emergency cooling water and air cooling. This can make them more vulnerable to terrorist attack.[1]

Especially since the September 11 attacks, people have become concerned that terrorists or criminals could bomb a nuclear plant and release radioactive material. Building more plants would create more targets to protect.[6][4]

There is an "international consensus on the advisability of storing nuclear waste in deep underground repositories",[13] but no country in the world has yet opened such a site.[13] The demise of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada leaves the USA with no plan for the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.[6]

Since 2000 the nuclear industry has mounted an international media and lobbying campaign to promote nuclear power as a solution to the enhanced greenhouse effect and climate change. Nuclear power, the industry claims, emits no or negligible amounts of carbon dioxide. Anti-nuclear groups respond by saying that only reactor operation is free of carbon dioxide emissions. All other stages of the nuclear fuel chain – mining, milling, fuel fabrication, enrichment, reactor construction, decommissioning and waste management – use fossil fuels and hence emit carbon dioxide.[14] At the same time, global warming puts nuclear plants at risk, with some reactors being shut down "due to summer heat waves and droughts that impact their cooling systems".[15]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Greenpeace International and European Renewable Energy Council (January 2007). Energy Revolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook, p. 7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gierec" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Giugni, Marco (2004). Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements.
  3. Helen Caldicott (2006). Nuclear power is not the answer to global warming or anything else, Melbourne University Press, ISBN 0 522 85251 3, p. xvii
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Brian Martin. Opposing nuclear power: past and present, Social Alternatives, Vol. 26, No. 2, Second Quarter 2007, pp. 43-47.
  5. Terry Macalister. New generation of nuclear power stations 'risk terrorist anarchy', The Guardian, 16 March 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Bill Theobald. Alexander vision for new nuclear plants faces many obstacles, January 15, 2010.
  7. Toward Renewed Legitimacy? Nuclear Power, Global Warming, and Security p. 110.
  8. Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen (2008). Nuclear power – the energy balance
  9. Clyde W. Burleson. Nuclear Afternoon
  10. Stephanie Cooke (2009). In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, Black Inc., p. 280.
  11. Newtan, Samuel Upton (2007). Nuclear War 1 and Other Major Nuclear Disasters of the 20th Century, AuthorHouse.
  12. The Worst Nuclear Disasters
  13. 13.0 13.1 Al Gore (2009). Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, Bloomsbury, pp. 165-166.
  14. Mark Diesendorf. Is nuclear energy a possible solution to global warming?
  15. Nuclear power protested from Copenhagen to Washington