March 29, 2008
No Nukes Is Good Nukes
Over the past 12 months a number of print and radio news items have appeared extolling the virtues of nuclear power and urging a reconsideration of New Zealand's opposition to nuclear power.
There are at least five good reasons for continuing to oppose nuclear power in New Zealand. These are:
1. Even now there is still no way to safely dispose of highly radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants. If we're going to be good stewards of the environment then we cannot just dump toxic radioactive waste in the Pacific or in the Southern Alps.
2. The risk of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists and the large scale damage that could result. Globally the risk of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear material increases every time another country adopts nuclear power as an energy source. We do not need to be part of that problem.
3. The inability of the pro-nuclear lobby to guarantee the safety of nuclear power plants. Nuclear accidents in the USA (Three Mile Island) and Russia (Cheronobyl) continue to remind us that sometimes our faith in science and human engineering can be misplaced - no matter how many safety systems are in place. The engineers of the Titanic also believed they had a truly safe and unsinkable product. Supporters of nuclear power will argue that life itself can be seen as being one big risk management exercise but frankly when it comes to nuclear power it pays to err on the side of caution.
4 New Zealand has particular geographical challenges such as our terrain and earthquake risks. Even if the case for nuclear power can be made for the USA or France - the challenges for New Zealand and the reasons not to do it are stronger here than elsewhere.
5. The economics don't stack up. The cost of nuclear reactors in the UK is now budgeted at $9billion each. That could fund our entire education or health system for some years. In most countries nuclear power plants rely on taxpayer subsidies to cover the cost of construction. I can think of a lot of other things I'd prefer to use taxpayer subisides for ahead of helping the nuclear power industry.
The nuclear lobby argues that because we have tiny radioactive sources in things like smoke detectors it is not true for us to claim to be "nuclear-free" Therefore - so the argument runs_ we should adopt nuclear power. But there is a huge leap between smoke detectors and nuclear power plants churning out radioactive waste.
As of 2007, the United States had accumulated more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors. Underground storage at Yucca Mountain in U.S. has been proposed as permanent storage. After 10,000 years of radioactive decay, according to United States Environmental Protection Agency standards, the spent nuclear fuel will no longer pose a threat to public health and safety.
Alternative energy sources, such as wind, tidal, solar and geothermal, which do not have the pollutant waste involved with nuclear, remain far better options.