|Written by Frank Joseph Smecker|
|Monday, 30 March 2009|
Lately, many may have heard the affable radio jingles for nuclear energy as a clean and reliable candidate to supplant the U.S.’s reliance on foreign fossil fuels. This is sheer, malignant propaganda. Nuclear energy, along with its requisite mining, is not only unsustainable to a high degree, but is, in all aspects, violently rapacious as it dissolves the planet’s fecundity and ultimately encumbers the creation of life for generations to come. It is imperative that nuclear is removed from the lexicon of domestic energy policy and that we, as a people, consider alternative energy options while significantly reducing our consumption levels.
From its inception through mining processes to enrichment, fission, and post-fission, nuclear energy supplies the human race with more destructive waste than energy. A typical 1,000 megawatt plant produces roughly 500 pounds of plutonium and 20-30 tons of high-level radioactive waste annually. There is no known safe and secure way to dispose of the waste. The rate of decay of a radioactive isotope is called its half-life (e.g., the half-life of Plutonium-239 is 24,000 years). The hazardous life of a radioactive element--that being the amount of time needed before the element stops posing a significant risk to people’s mortal health--is at least 10 half-lives; that means plutonium-239 will remain deadly for at least 240,000 years.
DU (depleted uranium, U-238) has a half-life of 4.5 billion years--its hazardous life is uncertain. Despite there being no known safe and secure riddance of the material, the U.S. has made over 1 billion tons of DU for its own "practical" use. DU is used in armor-piercing incendiaries and has been released over Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia. According to research done by the World Health Organization (WHO), DU emits an ionizing radiation responsible for irreversible DNA and genetic damage, and ultimately cancer, an assortment of lethal lung/kidney diseases, and/or death; not to mention its fallout rings the globe by way of the jet streams above.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis have been maimed and infants born with deformed limbs or without heads--by the incessant U.S. aerial deployment of DU since the first Gulf War and beyond. Despite the Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI) egregious claim that nuclear energy is safe and "green" with zero emissions, analysis proves otherwise. In fact, the nuclear industry is a large contributor to the greenhouse gas aggregate and global warming. The mining of uranium is especially intensive in emitting CO2, alongside a stringent reliance on diesel fuel to operate the machinery. Considering as well the mining of uranium, fuel enrichment, and plant construction combined to culminate an operating facility, the equivalent of 34-60 grams of CO2 are emitted per kilowatt of energy (from each operational facility).
In 2007 the U.S.’s total generation of energy from nuclear fission was 806.5 billion kWh (kilowatt hours). That equals anywhere from 27,421 billion to 48,390 billion grams of CO2 released into the atmosphere in that year alone. The global emissions are much starker, ranging anywhere from 90,429.8 billion to 159,582 billion grams of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Once again, these numbers will only climb drastically with demand. In order to replace the entire world’s fossil fuels, more than 2,000 new nuclear facilities would have to be built--an endeavor that would assail the ecology of the planet and its people.
Right alongside critical postulations are the potential concerns surrounding spent fuel cooling pools. According to information attained from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCSUSA), these 45-feet deep, 100,000 gallon lead and/or steel-lined concrete pools are necessary for retaining the high-level radioactive spent fuel rods that generate intense heat. Powered by diesel generators, the pools are continually cooled while pumps circulate the water from the spent fuel pools to heat exchangers back to the spent fuel pools, and round and round. There is also the monitoring of the air and water in order to prevent radiolysis (the dissociation of molecules) so that hydrogen gas will not escape, threatening explosion. Without cooling, the pool water will heat up and boil. If that water boils away, the spent fuel assemblies will overheat, melt, or catch fire. If this is all maintained by diesel generators, then peak-oil presents a more precarious than anticipated situation for us all.
In addition, the deleterious effects of uranium mining imposed on the environment have been felt worldwide--from Saskatchewan all the way to Rum Jungle in Australia, which is perhaps the world’s worst case of negligent mining.
Uranium mining is culpable for radiological contamination of the environment and for impacting groundwater systems. It requires approximately a ton of ore to extract two pounds of uranium. The leftover debris is known as uranium tailings ("for each ton of uranium oxide approximately 40,000 tons of tailings remain behind") and they contain 85 percent of the original radioactivity of the ore. These tailings are comprised of alpha-emitting substances such as thorium-230 (half-life of 80,000 years), radium-226, radon-222, lead-210, polonium-210, etc. The tailings emit at least 10,000 times more radon gas than does the undisturbed ore. Radon gas can travel 1,000 miles in a day and can deposit on vegetation, soil, and water.
The above mentioned radium-226, ubiquitous in uranium tailings, is a highly lethal "bone-seeking" alpha-emitting carcinogen with a half-life of 1,600 years. This element is "blown in the wind, washed by the rain, and leached into waterways" from the tailings. It concentrates by factors of thousands in aquatic plants and by the hundreds in terra plants. Radon gas from inoperative mines and abandoned tailings can be culpable for radioactive contamination not only on a continental level, but on a global basis as well. The rate of cancer deaths in Windham County in Vermont has risen to 5.7 percent above the national average. Entergy’s Yankee nuclear plant is situated alongside the Connecticut River in Vernon, which is in Windham County.
It is, by far, the indigenous peoples of the world who have most felt the encroaching and damaging effects of the nuclear industry. The aboriginals of Australia, perhaps the oldest human cultures of any still in existence, are threatened daily by the encroachment of uranium mining and the deadly legacy of uranium tailings.
In the U.S., the land surrounding Yucca Mountain (a proposed nuclear waste repository and current weapons testing site) is not U.S. territory, but legally belongs to the Shoshone Nation (despite U.S. gold-mining in the area, which is destructive of the land and people).
In Canada, ten lakes within the Lake Huron region are now radioactive waste sites due to uranium mining. Uranium mined from Elliot Lake in Ontario was used for U.S. nuclear weapons and the area is now infecund, emitting dangerous levels of radiation, immiserating the Northern Ojibwa peoples.