Op-Ed, 562 words

Let’s Shelve New Nuclear Power Initiatives

The long-term costs for nuclear energy are greater than solar, wind, and geothermal alternatives.

Alice Slater

President Eisenhower is well remembered for correctly warning the public in his final address to the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.” In that same speech, Ike further cautioned that “we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” It’s time to pay close attention to this second warning too.

In May, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that 42 university-led nuclear research and development projects would receive $38 million through the Department of Energy’s “Nuclear Energy University Program,” designed to help advance nuclear education and develop the next generations of nuclear technologies. “We are taking action to restart the nuclear industry as part of a broad approach to cut carbon pollution and create new clean energy jobs,” Chu said. “These projects will help us develop the nuclear technologies of the future and move our domestic nuclear industry forward.”

At a time when the United States should be creating a new Manhattan Project for safe, clean, green energy from the sun, wind, and tides, the Obama administration is trying to recreate the old Manhattan project, training our best and brightest to continue to wreak havoc on the planet with nuclear know-how. Instead of letting the old nuclear complex rust in peace, the government is enticing young people to study these dark arts by putting up millions of precious dollars for nuclear programs and scholarships.

What a disappointment. Dr. Chu, a Nobel laureate scientist, appointed by Obama for “change we can believe in,” represents the old paradigm of top-down, hierarchical, secret nuclear science. It’s just so 20th century. Chu has apparently ignored the myriad studies that show that, dollar for dollar, nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways to meet energy needs, when long-term costs are compared to solar, wind, geothermal, appropriate hydropower and biomass, and efficiency measures. This is also true for reducing carbon emissions, as expensive nuclear power would actually exacerbate catastrophic climate change, since less carbon emission is prevented per dollar spent on costly nuclear technology compared to applying those funds to clean energy sources and efficiency.

Further, countless studies, including recent reports from three communities in Germany with nuclear reactors, indicate that there are higher incidences of cancer, leukemia, and birth defects in communities with toxic nuclear power plants that pollute the air, water, and soil in the course of routine operations. And a recent report from the New York Academy of Sciences finds that deaths from the disastrous accident at Chernobyl now number over 900,000.

Chu, a nuclear physicist, is well aware that the radioactive byproducts of nuclear power will remain toxic for 250,000 years, and that there is no known solution to safely store this lethal brew for the eons it will threaten human health and the environment.

Americans should oppose any further funding for this failed, dangerous technology, as well as for the inordinate subsidies presently planned for the nuclear industry. It’s time to invest in a clean energy future that will create millions of jobs and enable the United States to earn an honest dollar by developing desirable new technologies to offer to the world. As it is, we’ll provide a growing number of countries the wherewithal and technical know-how with which to make a nuclear bomb, while subjecting their communities to the consequences of toxic radiation.

Alice Slater is the New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. A different version of this commentary first appeared on the Foreign Policy In Focus Focal Points blog.