There’s Nothing Energy Independent (and sustainable) about Nuclear Energy
Suppose we suspend our “precautionary principle” and understanding about the Three Mile Island crisis. You know, that 1979 national emergency caused by a partial meltdown triggered by a loss of reactor cooling water. Unfortunately, over the last three decades, neither plant owners nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have adequately addressed the basic flaws in U.S. nuclear safety that led to the Three Mile Island accident, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
And suppose we just forget about what to do with the nuclear waste from the reactors, lethal to all life for more than 10,000 years. Even if we can contain the nuclear waste (a big “if” for many of us to swallow in these days of unforeseen financial market meltdowns), why pass this waste on to future generations, on to our great, great, great grandchildren?
That we’ve been unable to agree politically on a safe place to store nuclear waste (in Yucca Mountain, Nevada) masks the fact that we still need to move this toxic waste from as many as 104 currently operating nuclear reactors scattered throughout the continental U.S. Nice targets for those terrorists we’ve been unable to locate or perhaps for the swelling homegrown terrorist types as of late, folks who have come on hard times and can think of better things to do with a $700 billion bailout package and don’t like the way things are headed in Washington D.C. By the way, these nuclear reactors with a 40 year lifespan aren’t cheap, therefore they’ve been partially subsidized by American taxpayers for years.
What Senator McCain and Senator Obama seem to leave out in all their debates and public discourse is that America is no more energy independent with nuclear power than it is with oil. A key rationale for expanding nuclear power generation touted by those concerned about climate change – including both Presidential candidates: Nuclear power plants generate energy by splitting uranium atoms, resulting in no carbon dioxide emissions, standing in stark contrast to those CO2 emissions created by burning coal or oil. But the U.S., as it turns out, has even less uranium than oil as a percentage of domestic production.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the United States uses about 53 million pounds of uranium oxide each year, of which only 10 percent is from domestic sources. The US imported about 90 percent of its uranium from foreign sources like the increasingly unstable and belligerent Russia. Other sources of imported uranium include Kazakhstan, Niger, Namibia, Uzbekistan, Canada and Australia. Together, Australia and Canada account for about fifty percent of the world’s total primary uranium production as of 2004, according to the Uranium Producers of America. However, the Bush Administration has recently inked a deal to boost Russian, not Canadian or Australian, uranium imports to supply the US nuclear industry, according to the US Commerce Department. The agreement allows Russia to supply 20 percent of U.S. reactor fuel, quota-free, until 2020. So now, we need to transport it from Russia to the U.S. (safely?).
According to the USA Uranium Corp, “a typical pellet of uranium weighs 7 grams (0.24 ounces), and can generate as much energy as 3.5 barrels of oil, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas or 1,780 pounds of coal. This makes it a clean and efficient source of natural energy.” But there’s more to nuclear than simply the efficiency of the “clean energy” story.
“Dig, baby, dig” or “pump, baby, pump” will be the new slogan if new nuclear power plants are fired up in a big way. But akin to the off-shore drilling buzz around oil, United States has only about 6% of the recoverable uranium resources worldwide. According to the Uranium Producers of America, “20% of America’s electricity that is currently supplied by nuclear power requires about 57 million pounds of uranium each year; yet America’s uranium industry produced only 2.6 million pounds U3O8 in 2005.” Securing more domestic sources uranium quickly seems as poorly conceived as off-shore oil developments. Plus, it continues along the depletion-mode of a global economy, rather than thriving in a restoration economy I write about in ECOpreneuring where we focus our energy and governmental policies on renewable sources of energy.
Energy efficiency and conservation continues to offer the biggest – and quickest – bang for our investment in energy independence, if we want to tackle energy needs and climate change at the same time. We also need a different approach to our more-based and debt-based economy. It’s time we develop a long term energy strategy that will be fair and work for all Americans, not just trade one energy source dependency for another (read: benefit one energy goliath over another).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live with a nuclear reactor in my community any more than I want to live in a nuclear fallout shelter. We need an energy policy and plan that is based on the abundant availability of renewable energy. We cannot drill, or dig, or pump our way out of energy dependency.
The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. Even T. Boone Pickens seems to think so. View our latest production with a 10kW Bergey wind turbine.