This is in response to the excellent article in the Aug. 11 issue of the Napa Valley Register by Joseph Vitelli (“Move more aggressively on climate change”), a very thorough article, though I have a problem with one of his points: nuclear power.
I also want to comment on a second endorsement of nukes by Matt Wilkinson in the Sept. 8 issue (“Take another look at nuclear”).
There is little or no evidence that nuclear plants produce any net energy. The fossil fuel footprint of nukes is huge, from exploration for uranium ores to mining, transport, building enrichment plants, then an operating nuclear power plant to eventual decommissioning and monitoring plants and nuclear wastes forever, the latter costing more than building the plants in the first place.
These costs are discounted by the industry, which include the daily release of radiation during normal operation, toxic wastes that are dumped into our environment, air, water and land, and forgotten: costs "externalized."
The best uranium ores contain only 0.7% U235, needed for further enrichment to operate a nuclear power plant. The remaining 99.3% is U238, euphemistically called depleted uranium (DU) also radioactive and discarded into our environment.
These plants also have regular down times for maintenance and frequent unreported "accidents" that do not make the news, unlike Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, or a 9/11-like event that mysteriously raised radiation readings in Manhattan. Northern Russia had an "accident" in recent weeks which killed five nuclear scientists among others.
Wall Street regards nukes as the worst investment ever, and will not touch them. Like fossil fuels, nukes have to be heavily subsidized to exist--fossil fuels get $650 billion per year, while the answers to our survival, solar and wind, go begging. Why? The dirty, inefficient and now potentially lethal sources of the past remain a cash cow for the greedy, who want profits now and damn the future for humans and the millions of species we depend upon.
Renewable energies are orders of magnitude more productive, cleaner, cheaper and rapidly accessible, since they can go online in weeks or months vs. the eight to 10 years to get a nuke working.
Our politicians have been convinced that we must have the spin-off of uranium isotopes to make uranium and plutonium weapons, which no sane person or government would ever use. Yes, we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the obliteration of civilian populations, but who says we're sane?
Bottom line, nuclear energy is the worst idea ever imposed on an uninformed world, and the argument that it can help avoid extinction from global warming seems to be based on the fact that they don't produce black smoke when in operation. That smoke was blown to the winds during the many carbon-intensive activities necessary to build a plant that only heats water.
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The only reactor we can survive is nicely sited 93 million miles away-we call it "sun" -- and when we become history the 434 reactors we leave behind, unattended, will go critical and make our once livable planet so radioactive that little or no species will exist, with the possible exception of radio-resistant cockroaches. I know one called Archy.
All reactors have cores that, on average, contain the radioactivity of a thousand Hiroshima bombs. Why slice bread with chainsaws, and kill ants with sledgehammers?
So, nukes are unnecessary, anything but carbon-free, take years to come on line, and are not safe: they release and disperse radioactivity in normal operation and immeasurable amounts when accidents occur, as they regularly do, often small enough to avoid being reported. Yes, many industries are also dangerous, but without lethal radiation.
Many studies have documented increase cancer rates near nukes. There is no safe level of radiation; we permit an "acceptable" level that the industry can get away with. Ask yourself: what is the number of bullets that can be safely fired at me at close range? Fifty? Twenty? Five? We all agree on zero.
The article downplays the number of deaths that have resulted from nuclear events. The number occurring on the day of the accident is dwarfed by the long-term health effects of radiation, including cancers, which happen years or even decades later. It's silly to compare these with natural events over which we have no control: earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.
Yes, nobody dropped dead in the street that day. The health effects come later
Let's face it: nukes are already dead.