Nuclear is not the right alternative energy source
Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and author of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy. His e-mail address is

     New plants are risky, costly and unnecessary, says ARJUN MAKHIJANI
     Luminant Energy, formerly TXU, is proposing to build two Mitsubishi nuclear power reactors at its Comanche Peak site, where two reactors are already in place.
     This is part of a national wave of new commercial reactor proposals after a three-decade lapse in new orders – eight in Texas alone. Having failed miserably to deliver on the 1950s promise that nuclear electricity would be "too cheap to meter," the industry now says it will save us from climate change. If you don't like coal, you have to take nuclear, goes the nuclear establishment's hopeful mantra.
     That's a false choice. Replacing coal with nuclear is risky, costly and unnecessary.
     Renewable energy sources are quite sufficient to provide ample, reliable electricity. For instance, Texas has greater wind energy potential than its present electricity generation from all sources; it is greater also than the output from all U.S. nuclear power plants combined. And it has barely captured a whisper of its potential.
     Wind energy is competitive with or more economical than nuclear energy – about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour in good areas. A recent independent assessment by the Keystone Center, which included industry representatives, estimated nuclear costs at 8 to 11 cents.
     Intermittency is not a significant issue until very high levels of penetration. For instance, a 2006 study prepared for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission found that an increase of just over 2% in operating reserves would be sufficient to underpin a 25% renewable energy standard supplied by wind.
     Meanwhile, Solar energy is somewhat more expensive today, but costs are coming down rapidly. Last December, Nanosolar produced the first solar panels costing less than a dollar a watt at its factory in Silicon Valley.
     In January, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, which is owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, dropped plans to build a nuclear power plant in Idaho, on the grounds that it could not provide reasonably priced energy to its customers.
     New nuclear plants would add to the country's problem of nuclear waste. The federal government has long been in default of its obligations to existing nuclear plant operators to take the waste away from their sites. Nuclear utilities have had to take the government to court to recover added storage expenses, which will cost the taxpayers billions or possibly even tens of billions of dollars over time.
     To imagine that the federal government will take charge of waste from new plants where it does not even have contracts is wishful thinking. Much more likely, Texas will be stuck with it.
     And then there is the problem of cooling water. The two proposed reactors would consume about 40 million gallons of water per day. Even assuming that the water is available, Texas is risking a less reliable power system, given that droughts are estimated to become more extreme in a warming world.
     For instance, last September, a nuclear unit at Browns Ferry belonging to the Tennessee Valley Authority had to be shut down for lack of water. In contrast, solar photovoltaics and wind-generated electricity do not need water.
     Luminant's two reactors are already discharging significant amounts of tritium-contaminated radioactive water into the Squaw Creek reservoir. New reactors would only add to those discharges.
     Before proceeding with new reactor proposals, Luminant should at least investigate how it might reduce existing tritium discharges. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen, which displaces ordinary hydrogen in water to form tritiated water, which becomes radioactive as a result.
     The notion that renewable energy cannot supply the electricity requirements of the United States has been widely put forward without careful technical evaluation.
     On the contrary, it is nuclear that is the risky course. Texas can remain an energy leader in the twenty-first century – but only if it steps out ahead of the coming renewable energy revolution.

Nuclear Power Cannot Solve Climate Change

March 27, 2009
By Katherine Ling
     A new report finds that nuclear power plants cannot be built quickly enough and in a safe and secure manner to be a major global solution for climate change
     Nuclear power plants cannot be built quickly enough and in a safe and secure manner to be a major global solution for climate change, according to a report released yesterday from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
     The report says the nuclear industry, under current policies and financing, won't be able to build enough new reactors to make a difference in climate in the next 20 years.
     "Without major changes in government policies and aggressive financial support, nuclear power is actually likely to account for a declining percentage of global electricity generation," the report says.
     The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2008 projects that without policy changes, nuclear power's share of worldwide electricity generation will drop from 15% in 2006 to 10% in 2030.
     But policymakers should be aware of the timeline, costs and risks nuclear power brings as compared to the possible benefits, before expending a tremendous amount of resources on it, the report says.
     Bottlenecks in the nuclear supply chain, weak infrastructure in developing countries and tighter credit risk management strategies in the wake of the economic crises will severely limit all countries' capabilities to significantly expand their nuclear fleet, while the current fleet of reactors is likely to be retired by 2030, the report said.
     The earliest the first new U.S. reactor could be finished is 2015, but the report notes that it takes about 10 years to put a new plant in service, from licensing to connection to the grid. In two dozen countries that are interested in obtaining civil nuclear energy but have not previously built a reactor, it will take even longer, the report says.
     "The exigencies of energy security and climate change do not warrant racing ahead before institutional frameworks can ensure that any expansion makes sense, not just for energy needs, but for world security," the report says.
     The report argues that nuclear energy is not likely to have a significant effect on energy security, either.
     It will take at least two decades to convert the world's car fleet from oil to electricity. Transportation is the only sector where nuclear energy can significantly replace oil.
     In addition, uranium and nuclear fuel come from only a few countries – Canada, Australia, Russia, the United States and France – making nations without resources or technologies as dependent on foreign sources of energy as before, the report notes. Worse still, it says, the need for fuel may drive more nations to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities, raising the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
     Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500

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