Many of President Barack Obama’s domestic priorities seem intractably stuck in partisan gridlock, but one of his recent State of the Union proposals appears to be moving ahead quickly: taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for so-called “safe, clean, nuclear power plants.”
The Energy Department has already announced a new $8.3 billion loan guarantee for new nuclear plants in Georgia, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu is using Facebook to explain why the administration believes nukes are necessary.
“No single technology can provide all of the answers,” Chu says. “We need nuclear power as part of a comprehensive solution.”
No way. While it’s certainly true that our energy needs require a diversity of solutions, nuclear power shouldn’t be in the mix. Solar, wind, and geothermal power, combined with energy efficiency, can overcome our reliance on fossil fuels, provide energy security, and mitigate the climate crisis. Here are the top 10 reasons why we shouldn’t build any more nuclear reactors:
1) Nuclear waste: The waste nuclear power plants generate will remain toxic for humans and the planet for more than 100,000 years.
2) Nuclear proliferation: Countries like Iran and North Korea remind us constantly that we can’t develop a domestic nuclear energy program without confronting proliferation issues in other countries.
3) National security: Nuclear reactors are a clear national security risk, and serve as attractive targets for terrorists. Many of these power plants are located within 50 miles of major cities. Think about it.
4) Accidents: Forget terrorism for a moment, and remember that accidents—caused by mechanical failure, human error, or natural disasters—can wreak havoc at nuclear power plant sites. The Chernobyl disaster forced the evacuation and resettlement of nearly 400,000 people, with thousands poisoned by radiation. What’s more, 25 years later, Chernobyl’s effects continue. For example, food sourced from that area still poses many risks.
5) Cancer: There are growing concerns that living near even accident-free nuclear plants increases the risk for childhood leukemia and other cancers.
6) Not enough water: Nuclear plants must be located near a source of water for cooling. There aren’t enough worldwide locations safe from droughts, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other disasters that could trigger an accident.
7) Not enough uranium: Even if we could find enough sites for a new generation of nuclear plants, we’re running out of the uranium necessary to power them. U.S. and UK scientists have shown that if nuclear power were expanded to provide all of the world’s electricity, we’d deplete the world’s available uranium within a decade.
8) Costs: Some types of energy production experience decreasing costs to scale. Like computers and cell phones, when you make more solar panels, costs come down. That’s not the case, however, with nuclear power. Due to dwindling sites and uranium resources, each successive new nuclear power plant will be more expensive than the last. Europe’s new reactors are exceeding their budgets.
9) Private sector won’t finance construction: Due to all of the above, private lenders have largely refused to take on nuclear power’s financial risks. That’s why the government is using taxpayer money to guarantee loans.
And most importantly, nuclear power still can’t be a climate solution because there is…
10) No time: We have less than 10 years to address the climate crisis before we lose our chance to truly reverse the damage our carbon pollution is causing. We can’t possibly build enough new nuclear power plants in a decade to cut our carbon emissions enough to stop climate change in its tracks.
Obama and the Department of Energy must take nuclear energy off the table. The reason nuclear plants require government loan guarantees in the first place is that the technology is too risky for the private sector. If Wall Street, infamous for its irresponsible behavior, won’t take the risk, then clearly this is a reckless way to use American taxpayers’ hard-earned money.