01 June 2011

Special Series: The Nuclear Power Play – Part 1: Where's the Green?

Published Saturday, May 7, 2011 3:00 am

by John Rehill

Special Series: The Nuclear Power Play – Part 1: Where's the Green?

The Nuclear Power (NP) industry is working overtime to contain the imagery coming out of Japan. Currently, there is more at stake to secure the public perception of NP plants than the four reactors nearing meltdown.

A few months ago, the NP industry had just about convinced the public that NP plants were safe and clean green energy machines. It turns out neither is true.

In President Obama’s 2011 State Of The Union Address, he called for “clean energy” including NP.

He stated the need for "... investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet and create countless new jobs for our people.”

One thing is clear; considering the recent turn of events in Japan, to move forward, by constructing new NP plants, without the prudence of an environmental impact study revealing their cradle to grave cost and perils, would be reckless and irresponsible.

What is at stake are the lives, health and well-being of the countless number of people that live anywhere near these plants, as well as what could be hundred’s of billions of dollars from America’s treasury, considering no underwriter will insure these plants for fear they might be compromised.


NP opponents see the huge expense to the environment and the pocketbook that these projects demand before the first shovel breaks ground, just one of the reasons NP is the most costly route to take for our future energy.

To start, thousands of acres are mined to obtain the limestone and other minerals used in making cement to construct just one of these plants. They are huge and require more than 10 times the amount of cement than any other type of construction. So much that soon after approval, the price of cement goes up in the region.

The mining destroys CO2-consuming topography that was once capable of reducing hundreds of tons of CO2 annually. This vegetation is replaced with CO2 producing equipment (trucks, dozers, drag-lines) that transports the millions of tons, sometimes hundreds of miles, to the plant site.

The mining and milling of the “uranium” is even more problematic. The loss of CO2-consuming topography and the equipment is similar, but the denigration to the aquifer and streams is even more severe than that from mining limestone.

From New Mexico to Canada lays a trail made up of thousands of mines and holes, some 600 ft. deep, which continue to pollute the aquifer, rivers, lakes and streams with high levels of radiation and heavy metals. This happens often enough that periodical warnings are posted on waterways like The Cheyenne River, Morreau River, Grand River, and many others.

These rivers run through areas like Cave Hill, Red Shirt, Pine Ridge and Church Rock. Sound familiar? If not, that’s because these are locations where the US Government and the NP industry hide a big, dirty secret – the US Forestry Department, on Native American Reservation land, primarily does the mining and milling of uranium.

The thousands of open mines with their pits and holes lie naked near hundreds of millions of tons of tailings (radium contaminated rock and dirt not suited for uranium fuel) leaching arsenic, radium 226 & 228, barium and other radioactive alpha emitters into the wells, streams and other water supplies.

Residents of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Pine Ridge Reservation, the Great Sioux Nation and Navajo Nation know this. They customarily suffer from many of the complications that come from the exposure to these elements, like cancer, leukemia, kidney damage and diabetes.

Historically, Native Indians didn’t suffer from these diseases, yet now they suffer from many times the numbers than the rest of the US population. These elements have no taste or odor, so it’s hard to know what or how much toxins one is consuming.

The really ugly part is that none of these mines, open pits or tailings, get any reclamation. “Indian Reservation” land is exempt from federal regulation enforcement, so there’s no cleanup. The NP industry escapes any cost of reclamation and the US government (tax payers) picks up the tab for the mined and milled uranium – yet another hidden expense not factored in when proposing these plants.

When it comes to creating a viable and sustainable energy plan for our future, there are clearly significant causes for skepticism regarding the role of NP. Before Americans are asked to accept its increased role, shouldn't the people asking at least present accurate information on the true environmental costs?

Personally, I'm not seeing these factors mentioned in such conversations, though I've seen what appears to be many attempts to "greenwash" nuclear power that fail to address these obvious problems in terms of its environmental impacts. The American people deserve a more honest conversation, if they are to be asked to consider starting down such a peril-ridden road.

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