- December 2, 1942 Scientists created the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at the Fermi Reactor in Chicago. This reactor produced nuclear energy (4), which now is the basis for nuclear power stations, submarines and ships, weapons, medicine, space objects, and research. (1)
- Nuclear Energy is released from the nucleus of an atom. The cycle begins when uranium is mined, enriched, and manufactured into nuclear fuel. The release of intense heat and radiation in a reactor is a process called nuclear fission. The reactor can function 4-6 years before the fuel is considered waste. It then is cooled for five years at the reactor site before being transported to a disposal site. This radioactive waste is considered spent nuclear fuel (SNF). (5)(7) Reprocessing of SNF into reusable fuel after cooling requires a breeder plant.
- The World Nuclear Association and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), contend that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions while Greenpeace International and Nuclear Information and Resource Services (NIRS) believe that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment. 3) However, the debate continues.
- Presently, 12-18% of the world’s electricity is generated through nuclear energy.
- Currently, there are 433 nuclear power plants in the world (excluding the 55 shut down in Japan due to Fukushima). The U.S. has 104 reactors which provide 19% of its consumption; France has 58 which provide 80%, with Germany phasing out all nine of its plants. (2)
- A nuclear plant takes 15-20 years to develop at a very high capital investment and will work as long as uranium is available. Nuclear power (fission and fusion) appear promising for space propulsion, generating higher mission velocities, and in the development of nuclear weapons. (3)
- Many nuclear engineers and scientists have made decisions on long term energy availability, but now consider that doing so without informed consent is wrong, and that nuclear power safety and nuclear technologies should be based fundamentally on morality, rather than purely on technical, economic and business considerations. (1)
- The effects of SNF from nuclear power plants are an ongoing study by NRC and anti-nuclear groups. The waste is highly radioactive (unconverted uranium, plutonium, carium). The radioactive waste has a lifetime range of 10,000 to a million years.
- Reprocessing the waste can recover up to 95% of the remaining uranium and plutonium from SNF but breeder reactors are required. At this time, reprocessing in the U.S. is not allowed because of potential nuclear proliferation.
- Currently the radioactive nuclear waste is stored at each reactor site where it is cooled for five years before it is transported to disposal sites. The sites are either above ground facilities or in underwater tanks. The proposed Yucca Mt. Site in Nevada was cancelled in 2011. (8) There are 430 disposal sites world-wide, with two in Michigan. Transporting radioactive waste is considered high risk.
- The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia tried a case between the State of New York Petitioners and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relating to Federal rulemaking on storage of SNF, resulting in an outcome for more NRC investigation on environmental impact of SNF. (7) The NRC regulates civilian nuclear safety, except where nuclear plants and materials are controlled by the U.S. Gov’t. for research, weapons production, and those powering navel vessels.
- Accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Fukushima Daiichi disasters are grave concerns.
- The Mark I (Fukushima) reactor has been known to be vulnerable to containment failure during an accident. In 1989 recommendations to correct this with a new vent system were completed without oversight and inspections. Since then it has shown to be unreliable. (7) The Mark I in Monroe, MI is similar to the Fukushima plant. (7) Human error is an ongoing factor causing accidents as well.
- The risk is extremely high to the environment as well as human life. Should an accident occur, the area affected by radioactive materials is inhabitable for generations to come. (3) In Japan, this affected 200,000 people at a distance of 135 miles.
- In addition, every power plant is a candidate for a terrorist attack. (5)
- No insurance company will cover costs of a nuclear disaster. The Price Anderson Act (6) established laws that each reactor owner must pay a yearly premium, plus it encouraged private investments (1957). Costs beyond this are covered by U.S. Government Funds. (8)
Sources: 1) Nuclear Safety, Wikipedia.org, 9/13/12; 2) Nuclear Power by Country, Wikipedia.org, 8-28-12; 3) Nuclear Power, Wikipedia.org, 9-11-12; 4) The Atomic Age, Wikipedia.org, 9-6-12; 5) The Verdict is on Nuclear Power, Mar. 2012, www.beyondnuclear.org; 6) Fact Sheet on Nuclear Insurance and Disaster Relief Funds, U.S. NRC, 3-29-12; 7) Freeze our Fukushimas, Mar. 2012; www.beyondnuclear.org; 8) The Lethal Legacy of the Atomic Age, 1942-2012-Infinity, Jan. 2012,