Nuclear power is not an answer to our collective energy problem. Essentially, turning to nuclear power as a primary solution to the current carbon-based system is like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. It is not an “alternative”. Considering that, in resource-availability terms, we could already be powering most structures in this state with solar power, and that we have not done so out of adherence to constructs and public policies rooted in economic interests, it seems ridiculous to suggest that our power problem demands we dig up metal and devise ingenious was of containing and storing radioactive dust. For me, there are three levels upon which nuclear power as a primary power source does not work.
1) Forming a larger industry around the mining of uranium would recreate the oil-based market system that has contaminated the global markets, has instigated war, has tainted laws. Wind is free. Sunlight is free. Yes, solar panels are built with silicon-but the silicon we use comes from sand and is the second-most common element on the earth (after oxygen). If we want to progress as a planet, we must focus not only on outcomes, but the means of attaining them. We need a new system that is not primarily driven by mining minerals-because that system can be too easily dominated by a relatively few people with the right land. In a wind and solar-based system, opportunity to participate and regulate is inherently more accessible. Wind is free. Sunlight is everywhere. So without even considering environmental impacts, a nuclear energy-based system is a repugnant proposition to me. This is my number one reason for opposing nuclear energy. We must question advocates of nuclear energy and consider whether they stand to benefit from mining, conversion of coal burning plants, or processing.
2) We need to recognize and heed the signs (the glaring billboards!) that uranium mining and nuclear power are wrong at a deeper level. At this point in our global evolution, we know what can lay ahead when indigenous people and “progress” meet. In hindsight of world history, we now see how many of the worst aspects of contemporary society were foreshadowed in interactions with native peoples at the outset of a progressive undertaking. So where indigenous people react adversely to something today, we should listen. To ignore the response of native people to uranium mining would be a monumental failure-the prospect of so doing reminds me of the Zora Neale Hurston book Their Eyes were Watching God, when the workers watched the Native Americans leaving the land only to later find themselves in the worst hurricane in the nation’s history. Culture is the heart of the planet. How can we advocate what causes the heart to bleed?
Consider these headlines from wise-uranium.org:
- Traditional heads oppose uranium mining in Meghalaya (India); January 9, 2008,
- Nova Scotia native leader calls for permanent ban on uranium mining; December 13, 2007,
- Contaminated groundwater from radioactive waste dump near Tuba City migrating towards Hopi drinking water spring (Arizona); December 2, 2007,
- Tribal judge excludes uranium company from Pine Ridge reservation (South Dakota); November 9, 2007,
- Navajo Nation demands federal moratorium on uranium mining. November 9, 2007,
Consider this excerpt from a recent article:
“First Nation leaders who were jailed and fined for protests against uranium mining last summer will now have a chance to appeal the decision. On July 7, 2008 Ontario’s highest court ruled that the contempt of court sentences against the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation were ‘too harsh.’ Robert Lovelace, a retired Ardoch Algonquin First Nation chief and his co-chief Paula Sherman, along with six others, were each sentenced to six months in jail over disputes with mining companies. Lovelace was fined $25,000, while Sherman was fined $15,000.” (“Ontario court calls native uranium mining protest punishment ‘too harsh'”, Ottawa Citizen, July 7, 2008, as quoted on wise-uranium.org)
3) Finally, there is the environment. Accidents happen. There’s a lawsuit currently underway in Texas in which Goliad County alleges a company didn’t adequately plug boreholes when testing for uranium and contaminated an aquifer, allegedly rendering wells undrinkable and allegedly violating the Safe Water Act. Accidents happen all the time. You can find a list of them at: http://www.wise-uranium.org/mdaf.html.
But that’s just the beginning of it. Because let’s say you could construct fool proof methods of testing and storing waste so that there was never a single accident. Increased uranium mining and processing would still pose both immediate and long-term harm to the people, the animals, the planet. The potential for harm was best stated by nuclear expert Dr. Gordon Edwards’ in his address to the 1992 World Uranium Hearings in Slazburg, Austria. He concluded the address by saying:
“Now, if I could just wrap up, I have to tell you something extremely important. The title of my talk was ‘Known facts and hidden dangers’. I’ve told you a bit about the known facts. Now for at least one of the hidden dangers. When we extract uranium from the ground, we dig up the rock, we crush it and we leave behind this finely pulverized material — it’s like flour. In Canada we have 200 million tons of this radioactive waste, called uranium tailings.
As Marie Curie observed, 85 percent of the radioactivity in the ore remains behind in that crushed rock. How long will it be there? Well, it turns out that the effective half-life of this radioactivity is 80,000 years. That means in 80,000 years there will be half as much radioactivity in these tailings as there is today. You know, that dwarfs the entire prehistory of the Salzburg region which goes way back to ancient, ancient times. Even archaeological remains date back no further than 80,000 years. We don’t have any records of human existence going back that far. That’s the half-life of this material.
And as these tailings are left on the surface of the earth, they are blown by the wind, they are washed by the rain into the water systems, and they inevitably spread. Once the mining companies close down, who is going to look after this material forever? How does anyone, in fact, guard 200 million tons of radioactive sand safely forever, and keep it out of the environment?
In addition, as the tailings are sitting there on the surface, they are continually generating radon gas. Radon is about eight times heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. It’ll travel 1,000 miles in just a few days in a light breeze. And as it drifts along, it deposits on the vegetation below the radon daughters, which are the radioactive byproducts that I told you about, including polonium. So that you actually get radon daughters in animals, fish and plants thousands of miles away from where the uranium mining is done. It’s a mechanism for pumping radioactivity into the environment for millennia to come, and this is one of the hidden dangers.
All uranium ends up as either nuclear weapons or highly radioactive waste from nuclear reactors. That’s the destiny of all the uranium that’s mined. And in the process of mining the uranium we liberate these naturally occurring radioactive substances, which are among the most harmful materials known to science. Couple this with the thought that nuclear technology never was a solution to any human problem. Nuclear weapons do not bring about a sane world, and nuclear power is not a viable answer to our energy problems. We don’t even need it for electricity. All you need for conventional electricity generation is to spin a wheel, and there’s many ways of doing it: water power, wind power, geothermal power, etc. In addition, there are other methods for producing electricity directly: solar photovoltaics, fuel cells, and so on. What we have here, in the case of nuclear power, from the very beginning, is a technology in search of an application.
So, I think that we as a human community have to come to grips with this problem and say to ourselves and to others that enough is enough. We do not want to permanently increase our radiation levels on this planet. We have enough problems already. Thank you.” The full text of Mr. Edwards’ address can be found at: http://www.ccnr.org/salzburg.html#ta