Nuclear Energy, Plutonium and Radioactive Power Part 3 Safety Hazards

About the problems with nuclear power including the safety hazards and alaternatives, a look at nuclear energy, plutonium and radioactive materials.

Leave On the Lights, but Turn Off the Plutonium

--Under routine stresses to their containers, high-level wastes seep into the environment, and critics say some have entered ground water. In their tanks, wastes are prey to saboteurs, earthquakes, wars, and accidents, any of which could release colossal amounts of radioactivity at one time.

--Safety systems protecting the public against major nuclear accidents have not even been fully tested under actual operating conditions. A reactor meltdown could cause thousands of deaths and $17 billion in damage, according to the AEC.

--The escape of only a few percent of a reactor core's radioactivity could render an area the size of California uninhabitable.

--Excluding accidents, fission plants routinely emit radioactivity in their stack gases and waste water. According to computations by eminent scientists, the legal Federal limits for this type of radiation have been set so high that if everyone in the country were exposed to the allowable radiation limits, this would each year produce 32,000 extra cancer-plus-leukemia deaths and 150,000 to 1,500,000 extra genetic deaths. The annual cost of health care just for the genetically-induced diseases has been estimated by Nobel geneticist Joshua Lederberg at $10 billion.

It is a good thing we do not have to pay such a terrible price to meet the nation's energy needs, even though the nuclear industry is clamoring for fission. Understandably, they have been hypnotized by the prospects of gargantuan profits to be made in nuclear power--$800 billion profits from reactors alone in the next 25 years (Business Week, February 24, 1973). Utilities have also been hit by higher fossil-fuel prices and by the Clean Air Act's strictures against high-sulfur coal burning. So the industry is pressuring the Government and the public in a stampede toward fission power.

It has been estimated that by 1980, fission plants will provide no more than 7% of the country's total energy or about 20% of its electricity, assuming nothing is done to stop them. Thus if electrical demand could be reduced 20%, all other things being equal, nuclear fission plants could be dispensed with, even without introducing alternative technologies. Data on this point are available in a report, The Potential for Energy Conservation, issued by the Office of Emergency Preparedness in October, 1972. This stated that industry could, by cutting waste, reduce its energy demand not merely by 7%, but by 10 to 15% of the projected demand in 1980. At least one other estimate is even more optimistic in its projections of energy savings. So again for this, if for no other reason, the nuclear power program could be scrapped. Of course, large-scale energy conservation will imply many basic economic changes which must be weighed in abandoning fission. Some might have undesirable impacts. Similarly, in the future it may not be desirable or feasible for us to continue deriving the same proportion of our energy from fossil fuels because of economic limits to recoverable fossil-fuel reserves and the environmental damage from increased hydrocarbon combustion.

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