Nuclear power critics continue to make numerous charges against nuclear power according to a story by Haider Rizvi recently posted on Common Dreams.org. The story quoted David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), who expressed surprise that
So many countries seem to be pursuing nuclear energy.Krieger alleged that nuclear power is
neither cheap, nor safe. It is not only expensive, but also poses major risks to the health of the planet,Krieger claimed that
Mining uranium for nuclear power plants produces radioactive compounds that often contaminate groundwater, air, and plant life,Lets look at this claim.
First a variety of mineral and fossil fuel related recovery and use technologies, also involve the release of far larger amounts of radioactive compounds that then enter the environment, contaminating ground and surface water, air and plant life, and yes even human life. I will not discuss every case in which there is a significant environmental problem, but I will briefly review one, the mining and use of phosphate and gypsum fertilizers that leads to uranium and radioactive radium contamination of the soil. Radium from phosphate and gypsum fertilizers can enter agricultural products and thus enter the human food chain. German research has found that uranium in the soil is associated with natural occurring ore bodies, and with the use of phosphate fertilizers. The same research found that the presence of natural ore bodies, and heavily fertilizer use is associated with higher uranium concentrations in surface water and tap water.
Richard A. Brand, a researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen, has found that
Potential U resources in phosphate rock are estimated to range between 15 and 22 Mio t U (WISE, 2000; UIC, 2005). At the current global rate of consumption (68000 t U/year; UIC, 2005), phosphatic uranium could meet the global demand for about 220 to 324 years. As a „side effect“, U input into agricultural soils with mineral P fertilization would be reduced.Brand also notes
Known conventional U resources, on the other hand, are around 3.5 Mio t U, and will only last for about 50 years (UIC, 2005).Thus if Krieger understood anything at all about the problem of uranium and radioactive compounds in the environment, he would know that be aware be aware of the radioactive fertilizer problem. Is Krieger really concerned about the contamination of groundwaters, air and plant life, of is his expression of concern just a ploy, an theadbare excuse to bash nuclear power?
notes that the byproducts of the nuclear energy include plutonium, which remains hazardous.In fact, a relatively simple process called vitrification renders plutonium and other nuclear products safe according to an IAEA report. But is vitrification the best solution to the plutonium and nuclear waste problems. Advocates of Generation IV nuclear technologies point out that fission products take only 300 years to stop being a radioactive hazard. Since stable fission products include nany rare, useful and valuable minerals, there is potentially a real economic incentive to recover them, Thus there is little need for long term storage of vitrified fission products. As far as plutonium and other actinides are concerned, they can be used as nuclear fuel in Generation IV reactors. By using plutonium and other actinides as nuclear fuel, allows them to be used to produce energy, and transforms them from long term hazards into the same short lived fission products that can eventually be so valuable and useful to industry. Thus the Rizvi story points used Krieger to alleged problems for which multiple competing solutions already exist.
Finally Rizvi uses Krieger quotes and attributions to make some strange claims about nuclear proliferation. Rizi states
Krieger thinks that parties to the NPT need to be considering the "strong relationship" between nuclear proliferation and nuclear disarmament because the existence of nuclear material for "peaceful" purposes could still pose the threat of weaponization.Is this true? In almost every country that developed nuclear weapons, weapon development programs did not use people or materials that came from their civilian nuclear power industry. And in fact almost every country which has developed nuclear power for peaceful civilian purposes without first developing nuclear weapons, has not followed up with the development of nuclear weapons. The major exception to this rule is India, which was threatened by two nuclear armed and war like neighbors. Thus in absence of nuclear self-defense issues, there is no evidence that the the possession of civilian power nuclear technology leads to nuclear proliferation.
Thus Rizvi and Krieger fail to make a strong case against nuclear energy.