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210 Posts

Posted - 11/25/2005 :  15:40:21  Show Profile  Email Poster Send duci a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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• The global nuclear industry requires approximately 68,000 tonnes of uranium ore a year to operate.[3]
• Approximately 36,000 tonnes of uranium a year is manufactured from ‘primary sources’ (mining).[3]
• Nearly half of all uranium supply is now provided from military sources (decommissioned weapons stocks and reserves) as well as spent fuel recycling.[3]
• The European Commission estimates that there may be only 2-3 million tonnes of exploitable uranium sources globally.[4]
• At current projections of nuclear capacity, uranium mining operations will need to increase output by 100% within 10-20 years to meet demand.[4]
• It is estimated that global exploitable reserves of uranium will likely be depleted within 30-40 years.[4]
• If all the world’s existing fossil fuel based power stations were replaced by nuclear, there would only be enough uranium for 3-4 years.[4]

Nuclear power plants in operation worldwide


Since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, there have been at least 22 major accidents at nuclear power stations of which 15 involved radiological release. Of these, 2 came close to meltdown.[7]


• The average nuclear power station produces between 20-30 tonnes of used nuclear fuel each year, amounting to 8,800-13,200 tonnes a year globally (not including military, research and medical sources).[4]

• A complete lifecycle analysis of the nuclear process-chain (mining, transport, operation, storage and decomissioning) reveals that the average nuclear reactor produces 20-40% of the CO2 of a typical gas fired power plant. Powerful greenhouse gases such as HFC and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) are also produced in unknown quantities.[4]

• A typical 1,000-megawatt pressurized-water reactor (with a cooling tower) takes in 20,000 gallons of river, lake or ocean water per minute for cooling, circulates it through a 50-mile maze of pipes, returns 5,000 gallons per minute to the same body of water, and releases the remainder to the atmosphere as vapour.[5]

• Many governments have dumped spent fuel rods and drums of radioactive sludge into the North Atlantic (26 known sites), the North Pacific (21 known sites) and the Arctic (6 known, but many more suspected) oceans.[6]


• During the period 1953-2002 the Canadian Government has given the nuclear industry approximately $14.5 billion in direct subsidies.

• The US government spent nearly $67 billion in direct subsidies to the nuclear industry in the 50-year period between 1948-98.[9]

• Members of the OECD (the 30 most industrialized nations) are estimated to have spent $318 billion on nuclear energy research and development by 1992.[10]

• The European Union spends 61% of its research and development funding for energy on nuclear despite the fact that the industry only contributes 13% of the EU’s energy supply.[11]

• In France, if the nuclear industry were not exempt from paying full accident insurance, the premiums would increase the costs of nuclear generated electricity by 300%.[11]

Number of Reactors in Operation Worldwide1 (as of 8 June 2005)

Global Net Installed Electrical Generating Capacity of Nuclear Power Plants 1960-2004

* 1 gigawatt = 1,000,000,000 watts (enough to power 16,666,667 60-watt light bulbs for 1 second or enough to supply the electricity demands of about 1,000,000 average North American homes) city demands of about 1,000,000 average North American homes).

• There are currently 37 nuclear reactors under construction with 40 more on order or planned and 70 more proposed.[1]

• Current nuclear generating capacity is at 366 gigawatts, the highest level ever reached.[1]

• Current installed nuclear capacity is nearly 100 gigawatts higher than when the Chernobyl disaster took place in 1986.[1]

• Total installed nuclear generating capacity increased by more than 2% between 2003-04.[2]

• Approximately 75% of installed nuclear power capacity in Europe is expected to be retired by 2030.[2]
[1] Power Reactor Information System database, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005. You must be logged in to see this link. World Nuclear Association, You must be logged in to see this link. Vital Signs 2005, Worldwatch Institute. Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS. Press Reports.
[2] Vital Signs 2005, Worldwatch Institute.
[3] Uranium Information Centre, You must be logged in to see this link. WISE-Uranium, You must be logged in to see this link. Nuclear Energy: the Energy Balance, Jan-Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, 2005. Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS.
[4] Nuclear Energy: the Energy Balance, Jan-Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, 2005. Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS.
[5] Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS.
[6] State of the Environment Atlas, Penguin Books, 1995.
[7] Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS. ‘List of Nuclear Accidents’, Wikipedia, You must be logged in to see this link. Calendar of Nuclear Accidents, Greenpeace, You must be logged in to see this link. Press Reports.
Canadian Nuclear Subsidies: Fifty Years of Futile Funding, David H Martin, Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, 2003. ‘Unfair Aid: The Subsidies Keeping Nuclear Energy Afloat’, Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS.
[9] ‘Unfair Aid: The Subsidies Keeping Nuclear Energy Afloat’, Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS. Running on Empty: How Envionmentally Harmful Energy Subsidies Siphons Billions from Taxpayers, Green Scissors Campaign, 2002.
[10] ‘Unfair Aid: The Subsidies Keeping Nuclear Energy Afloat’, Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS. ‘Nuclear Energy Belongs in the Technology Museum’, Hermann Scheer, Renewable Energy Access, 2004. You must be logged in to see this link.
[11] ‘Unfair Aid: The Subsidies Keeping Nuclear Energy Afloat’, Nuclear Monitor, WISE/NIRS. Environmentally Harmful Support Measures in EU States, B Leurs et al, Centre for Energy Conservation and Environmental Technology CE, Delft, 2003.

Prof.Dr. D. Ciurchea

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210 Posts

Posted - 11/25/2005 :  15:45:59  Show Profile  Email Poster Send duci a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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Fusion Illusion

As work begins to build the world’s most ambitious fusion reactor in France, and as proponents try to sell us the promise of a new, clean, fusion age, Peter Montague wonders whether we haven’t heard it all before.

The looming calamity of global warming has begun to dawn on the men and women (really, mostly men) who fancy that they own and operate Western civilization – the petrochemical cartels and their attendant law firms and lobbyists, the insurance and banking syndicates, the big media and entertainment conglomerates, the civil and military services, the large research universities.

For two decades the response to global warming from these quarters has been mainly silence, ridicule or denial, but now accumulating facts are pressing hard upon us all. To almost everyone, it seems clear that something must be done fairly soon. But what?

In its first-ever 20-year energy plan, the US Government’s Energy Department announced in 2003 it was putting its long-term eggs in the nuclear fusion basket. To many, fusion seemed a surprising choice because some of the smartest scientists in Europe, Japan, Russia and the US have spent the last 50 years and many tens of billions of dollars trying to harness nuclear fusion to generate electricity, so far without success.

Their goal is to reproduce the same conditions that power the sun (though on a smaller scale) and confine it tightly inside an invisible magnetic container to extract the heat, to boil water, to make steam, to turn a turbine, to generate electricity. Nuclear fusion powers the sun and it also powers hydrogen bombs.

In June 2005, the EU, France, Japan, South Korea, China and the US agreed to spend $12 billion over the next 10 years to build an experimental (and peaceful) fusion machine – called ITER – in southern France. Starting in 2014, the machine will operate in research mode for 20 years, after which another experimental machine will be built and perhaps 30 years after that – if all goes well – the first commercial fusion reactor will begin selling electricity. In other words, commercial fusion lies at least 50 years in the future, even if everything goes as planned.

Out of the frying pan...

In 1973, 20 years into the United States’ fusion energy research programme, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) raised a series of concerns about fusion energy – concerns that still seem valid today.[1] As AAAS said in 1973, ‘Operation of a fusion reactor would present several major hazards. The hazard of an accident to the magnetic system would be considerable, because the total energy stored in the magnetic field would be... about the energy of an average lightning bolt’ (200 billion joules[2], equivalent to about 47 tons of TNT). A greater hazard would be a lithium fire, which might conceivably release the energy of up to 14,000 tons of TNT (60 trillion joules). ‘But the greatest hazard of a fusion reactor... would undoubtedly be the release of tritium, the volatile and radioactive fuel, into the environment,’ the AAAS said.

Tritium is radioactive hydrogen, a tiny atom that is very difficult to contain. It can escape from some metal containers by slipping right through the metal. Furthermore, because tritium is hydrogen, it can become incorporated into water, making the water itself weakly radioactive. Since most living things, including humans, are mostly water, radioactive water poses a distinct hazard to living things. Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years, which means it remains radioactive for about 120 years after it is created. The AAAS estimated in 1973 that each full-scale fusion reactor would release one to 60 curies [3] of tritium each day of operation through routine leaks, even assuming the best containment systems. An accident, of course, could release much more because at any given moment there would be up to 100 million curies of tritium inside each full-scale machine – almost four times as much tritium as occurs naturally in Earth’s atmosphere.

Into the fire

In 1983, Lawrence Lidsky, a professor of nuclear engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), associate director of MIT’s Plasma Fusion Center, and editor of the journal Fusion Energy added to the world’s knowledge of potential problems with fusion energy, offering a candid critique of the technology.[4]

Lidsky compared the accident potential of today’s existing nuclear fission reactors to fusion reactors. Fusion reactors could not melt down the way today’s fission reactors can. And the radioactive waste from a fusion machine would be much less (perhaps 0.03 per cent as much waste as from a fission reactor, according to Lidsky).

However, he pointed out: ‘Current analyses show that the probability of a minor mishap is relatively high in both fission and fusion plants. But the probability of small accidents is expected to be higher in fusion reactors. There are two reasons for this. First, fusion reactors will be much more complex devices than fission reactors. In addition to heat-transfer and control systems, they will utilize magnetic fields, high power heating systems, complex vacuum systems, and other mechanisms that have no counterpart in fission reactors. Furthermore, they will be subject to higher stresses than fission machines because of the greater neutron damage and higher temperature gradients. Minor failures seem certain to occur more frequently,’ he warned.

Lidsky then pointed out that there would be too much radioactivity inside a fusion reactor to allow maintenance workers inside the machine. When things break, repairs will not be possible by normal procedures. This alone may make fusion plants unattractive to electric utilities, he pointed out. Lidsky said no-one was hurt at Three Mile Island, yet the accident was a financial disaster for the owner of the plant and ultimately for the nuclear power industry. An accident at a fusion plant could have similar consequences, he said.

He also noted that a fusion reactor would have to be physically much larger than a fission reactor to create an equivalent amount of electricity, perhaps 10 times as large. Such huge machines would be enormously expensive to build. From the viewpoint of generating reliable power, it would make more sense for a utility to invest in several smaller machines, rather than putting all their eggs in one large, unreliable basket. ‘All in all, the proposed fusion reactor would be a large, complex, unreliable way of turning water into steam,’ he suggests.

As a final caveat about fusion, Lidsky pointed out that: ‘One of the best ways to produce material for atomic weapons would be to put common uranium or thorium in the blanket of a D-T [deuterium-tritium fusion] reactor, where the fusion neutrons would soon transform it to weapons-grade material. And tritium, an unavoidable product of the reactor, is used in some hydrogen bombs. In the early years, research on D-T fusion was classified precisely because it would provide a ready source of material for weapons. Such a reactor would only abet the proliferation of nuclear weapons and could hardly be considered a wise power source to export to unstable governments.’ Despite these inherent problems, governments are relentlessly pursuing this expensive and unproven technology.

It is interesting to speculate why fusion might seem so attractive. For one thing its great complexity and expense mean that only wealthy countries could afford it. Each machine would create a highly centralized source of enormous power (electrical and political), controlled by a few people. The technical teams needed to develop fusion might be called upon, if needed, to lend a hand to military projects, perhaps extending to laser weapons deployed in space. In other words, unlike photovoltaic electricity and wind power that are inherently small-scale and difficult to bring under centralized control, nuclear fusion lends itself to tight control by powerful élites, both corporate and governmental. To the people who fancy that they own and operate Western civilization, such factors perhaps tip the balance in fusion’s favour.

Peter Montague is editor of Rachel’s Environment & Health News.
[1] Allen L Hammond, William D Metz, and Thomas H Maugh II, ‘Energy and the Future’ Washington DC, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1973.
[2] A joule is a unit of energy equivalent to 1 watt per second or 0.2389 calories.
[3] A curie is a unit used to describe the intensity of radioactivity in a sample of material. 1 curie is equal to 37 billion disintegrations per second, which is approximately the same rate of decay as 1 gram of radium.
[4]Lawrence E Lidsky, ‘The Trouble With Fusion’, Technology Review Vol. 86 October, 1983. Pages 32-44.

Prof.Dr. D. Ciurchea
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Posted - 11/25/2005 :  15:51:37  Show Profile  Email Poster Send duci a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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Nuclear is the new black
Talk of a supposed nuclear ‘solution’ to climate change is polluting the debate. Adam Ma’anit clears the air.

Just when we thought it was no longer de rigueur to talk of nuclear utopias where electricity would be ‘too cheap to metre’, the atom-smashing business is all the rage again. After the PR disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, lobby groups, think-tanks and public relations firms have been hard at it trying to revitalize the industry’s battered image with limited success. But increasing concerns about the threat of climate chaos caused by our fossil fuel addiction has handed the industry a lifeline. And they’ve been getting a little help from an unexpected corner.

Gaia goes nuclear

I first began to take real notice in May 2004. That month a now infamous article by scientist James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia hypothesis (which postulates that the earth acts as one super organism), was splashed across the front page of the British newspaper, The Independent. It conjured up fears of impending doom from climate change, overpopulation and deforestation. Lovelock admonished critics of the nuclear industry and their ‘irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media’. Their fears, he said, are unjustified, and ‘nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources’. The environmentalist icon concluded that, ‘nuclear power is the only green solution’.

Hardly surprising from the always pro-nuclear Lovelock, but the article’s release was well timed. A number of high-profile greenies followed Lovelock’s lead with cautious, and in some cases enthusiastic, endorsement of this once reviled technology. The list of converts is startling.

Hugh Montefiore, former Bishop of Birmingham and longtime trustee of Friends of the Earth, publicly outed himself in October 2004. ‘As a theologian I believe that we have a duty to play our full part in safeguarding the future of our planet... the graveness of the consequences of global warming for the planet [has led me] to the conclusion that the solution is to make more use of nuclear energy.’

One of the founders of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, joined the chorus going so far as to testify in defence of nukes before the US Congress. Even the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales – ‘Europe’s leading eco-centre’ by their own reckoning – added their voice. CAT directors Paul Allen and Peter Harper (credited with coining the term ‘alternative technology’) reasoned that: ‘The worst possible nuclear disasters are not as bad as the worst possible climate change disasters.’

In just one year, the once reviled nuclear industry has managed to shift its image dramatically. This dangerous, blunt and obsolete technology is now seen as a front-runner in the race to save our climate. Fission is back in fashion and the industry is exuberant to see nuclear once again sauntering down the catwalks of power.

There’s something about climate change

‘It’s not that something new and important and good has happened with nuclear, it’s that something new and important and bad has happened with climate change,’ explains US environmentalist Stewart Brand. British author and climate activist Mark Lynas echoes this sentiment: ‘If you ask me, anything is preferable to planetary climatic meltdown combined with a 1930s-style collapse into political darkness. Even nuclear power.’ It is clear that most greens that favour nuclear power are motivated less by a genuine enthusiasm than by overwhelming terror of a looming climate catastrophe. Their convictions are rooted in a desperate pessimism.

After all, the arguments against nuclear are as valid today as they were 20 years ago at the peak of the anti-nuclear movement. The technology is still extremely dangerous; relies on dwindling supplies of uranium; and remains so costly that massive government subsidies are required. It is also vulnerable to terrorism; can feed weapons proliferation; and produces volumes of toxic waste with no satisfactory storage solution.

The wind that has shifted in the industry’s favour is the desire of governments to be less reliant upon increasingly pricey oil imports from volatile regions of the world and concern over fossil-fuelled climate degradation. Many governments look set to fail to meet their meagre greenhouse-gas reduction commitments set out under the Kyoto Protocol. This shines a new and more flattering light on the nuclear power industry. Every pro-nuclear organization now touts the technology’s carbon-free credentials. The visitors centre at the Sellafield reprocessing facility on Britain’s West Cumbrian coastline, has almost as much exhibition space devoted to climate change as to nuclear science. Global warming has given the industry such a PR boost that if climate change didn’t exist, the industry would want to invent it. As British columnist George Monbiot acidly observed: ‘For 50 years, nuclear power has been a solution in search of a problem.’

Blinded by apocalypse

Given all we know about the dangers of nuclear, how can any self-respecting greenie endorse it? The answer lies in the different ways people think about extreme threats such as climate change. Rising sea-levels leading to floods and landslides; increased storm activity damaging essential infrastructure; long and sustained droughts in parts of the globe stymying food production – the potential effects read like the Book of Revelations. It’s no wonder climate campaigners sometimes perpetuate apocalyptic narratives.

This overwhelming sense of impending doom leads to a grasping at any solution no matter how harmful the consequences. For many pro-nuke greens, the threat of climate catastrophe trumps every other environmental or social concern – locking us into a state of permanent exceptionalism. Cue Lovelock: ‘We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear – the one safe, available, energy source – now, or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.’

Climate change seems to attract the kind of apocalyptic millennialists who once stood on street corners in London or New York proclaiming ‘the end of the world is nigh’. Let’s be clear, if we do nothing about climate change, the end may indeed be nigh for many by the end of this century. But to advance nuclear power as the solution is tragically shortsighted and ultimately misguided. Such a reaction seems almost inevitable if you believe that we’ve got 20-30 years before the planet is torn asunder by vicious climatic feedbacks. If the end of the world is coming to a theatre near you, you’re liable to do anything to stop it. For some greens this involves the unthinkable – going nuclear.

Whispering green nothings

But take that finger off the panic button for a moment. Is nuclear power really a solution to climate change? Nuclear power plants may not directly emit climate-damaging carbon dioxide, but if you look at the whole lifecycle of a nuclear power station its environmental credentials are pretty shaky.

The nuclear process employs energy-intensive industries dependent on vast quantities of fossil fuels. Uranium mining, enrichment and transport across the globe; the construction and decommissioning of facilities; and the processing, transport and storage of radioactive wastes. All these consume huge amounts of carbon-based energy such as oil and coal. Nuclear power simply can’t hold a candle to renewable energy technologies such as windmills and photovoltaic panels with their minimal reliance on fossil fuel use.

The Öko Institut in Germany released a 10-year study back in 1997 that found that in a full lifecycle comparison of various energy technologies, nuclear had nearly twice the carbon dioxide equivalent of wind power – even factoring-in the phenomenal difference in power output (kilowatts per hour). A more recent study factored-in the declining ratio of uranium to mined ore in rapidly dwindling uranium sources and found emissions increase as more mining, refining and transport is needed to compensate for poorer quality ore. The report concludes that overall emissions needed for nuclear power are five times higher than even the Öko Institut estimate. Every new nuclear power station creates a further demand for uranium and its attendant infrastructure, which in turn spirals energy demand upwards.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at nuclear power plants per se and ignore the lifecycle analysis (though nuclear power plants themselves release unknown quantities of greenhouse gases more powerful than carbon dioxide – such as the ozone-depleting chloro- and hydro-fluorocarbons as well as sulphur hexafluoride). How many new nuclear plants would we need to stop the worst excesses of climate change?

According to a 2002 report by Arjun Makhijani of the US-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), to produce a noticeable reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions, it would be necessary to build approximately 2,000 large new nuclear reactors each with 1,000-megawatt capacity. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlines a scenario whereby 3,000 nuclear reactors would be needed by the year 2100. This would mean an average of 75 new nuclear reactor-builds each year for 100 years. The US National Commission on Energy estimates that its domestic nuclear-power capacity alone would need to double and possibly triple over the next 30-50 years. This would bring the US total to about 300-400 new reactors, including replacements for those reaching retirement age. And this isn’t the end of the problems.

A growing number of studies (see pages 12-13) tell us that, if we were to replace outright all fossil-fuel generated electricity with nuclear, there would be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for only three to four years. After that the nuclear revolution would grind to a sudden and catastrophic halt. The long-promised and much-hyped fast-breeder plutonium reactors that eschew dependency on continuous supplies of uranium have proven both technological and economic failures. Without uranium, conventional reactors stop reacting.

Assuming all these challenges were overcome, what difference would a nuclear renaissance make to global greenhouse gas emissions? Very little it seems. Nuclear power stations serve one major useful purpose and that is to produce electricity. The percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions from world electricity production is only a small proportion of all polluting sources – about 16 per cent. This is therefore the maximum theoretical contribution that nuclear could make to our global emissions footprint assuming a total embrace of the atom. Transport, mining and manufacturing with heavy reliance on fossil fuels would continue to make up the lion’s share of the global economy’s climate-damaging emissions. Nuclear power would make no difference to nearly 85 per cent of the world’s climate-spoiling emissions. And there are other problems which will manifest as the earth gets hotter.

Too hot to handle

France has long been seen as the model nuclear nation – deriving over 70 per cent of its electricity supply from nearly 60 nuclear power reactors. However, in the past few years, brutal heatwaves have brought a number of stations near to closure. According to government regulations, reactors must be shut down if the ambient temperature inside rises above 50 degrees centigrade, or if the waterflow fed from local sources such as rivers and streams falls below certain limits. Facilities are also not permitted to release water back into the environment if it is above 25 degrees in order to protect local ecosystems that might be adversely affected by the heated water. In the past few years the French Government has temporarily allowed plants to breach these safety rules rather than force costly closures. As Stephane Lhomme of the anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucléare observes, ‘France finds itself in a situation of pre-nuclear accident.’ The irony is that with global warming expected to bring hotter summers and more prolonged droughts, the nuclear industry seems unlikely to be able to cope in such overheated conditions.

Playing with fire

It is cruelly ironic that this reinvigorated debate about nuclear technology takes place at a time when we approach the 20-year anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Thousands died, hundreds of thousands more have or will develop cancer, and an area covering much of Belarus and parts of Ukraine and Russia remains heavily contaminated. The Chernobyl catastrophe was 400 times more potent than the Hiroshima bomb. Today children are still being born with genetic defects and higher incidences of thyroid cancer and leukemia (see page 16). And the Chernobyl threat is far from over. Few realize that the majority of the reactor’s fuel is still intact and active. The concrete and steel sarcophagus covering it was never meant to be permanent. Cracks have already begun to emerge and radioactive seepage has been detected in groundwater. Alexei Yablokov, a leading Russian scientist and president of the Centre for Russian Environmental Policy, warns that a second Chernobyl disaster could be in the making without urgent repairs. ‘If it collapses, there will be no explosion, as this is not a bomb, but a pillar of dust containing irradiated (cancer-causing) particles will shoot 1.5 kilometers into the air and be spread by the wind.’ Yablokov reports that already small luminescent chain reactions have been observed as rain and snow mix with the reactor’s fuel exposed through cracks in the casing. Chernobyl stands as a stark reminder of the dangers of this arrogant technology.

The nuclear industry assures us that the disaster was a one-off event and lessons have been learned. But numerous instances of mishaps, accidents and radiation releases continue to occur all over the world.

The Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York in 1997 was discovered to have been leaking plumes of radioactive tritium and cobalt-60 for nearly 12 years, unbeknownst to engineers or the local community.

The Davis-Besse plant in Ohio came close to disaster when, in 2002, boric acid ate a 16.5cm hole through a 17cm reactor-vessel head. According to the US-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and the Union of Concerned Scientists: ‘If it had gotten through the remaining half-centimetre of steel that contained the coolant, a meltdown could have occurred.’

In April of this year, enough nuclear waste to ‘half-fill an Olympic-size swimming pool’ leaked from a cracked pipe at the UK Sellafield plant in Cumbria. The leak remained undetected for nearly nine months.

Just a few weeks ago in late June 2005, it came to light that radioactive waste has leaked into the Baltic Sea from corroded barrels stored at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden.

And the list goes on. The industry is mired in incompetence and disregard for safety at every stage from uranium mining to the still unresolved waste problem. Nuclear mishaps are much more commonplace than people think. A new nuclear renaissance, such as that already being seen in Asia, only introduces more risks of future accidents.

Gone with the wind

In contrast to the obsessive pursuit of some ultimate techno-fix, be it fission or fusion (see page 14), the real solutions are already here. While detractors will say that renewable energy technologies based on solar, wave and wind resources can never meet demand sufficiently, the truth is that they’ve never really been given a chance. While the nuclear and fossil-fuel industries have benefited from decades of exceedingly generous levels of government (read taxpayer) subsidies, renewables have barely had a look-in.

Take Europe, for example. Last year an estimated $18 billion in direct subsidies were dished out to energy companies. Of this a mere $300 million went to renewable energy technologies. Approximately $1.3 billion went to nuclear, and the rest went to fossil fuels. This does not include the generous indirect subsidies such as regulatory concessions, tax breaks and liability insurance write-offs (particularly important to the nuclear industry). Just recently the UK spent an additional $1 billion in order to prop up the bankrupt nuclear-power firm British Energy. If, however, we were to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and nuclear and shift resources into renewables, the prospects of meeting demand become far more achievable. Cut the cord on the billions likely to be spent on the internationally funded experimental fusion reactor in Cadarache, France (see page 14) and yet more resources would be freed up to spend on proven technologies that work now.

Despite the odds, renewables have already beat nukes in the energy game. According to the US-based Rocky Mountain Institute, in 2004 alone, small-scale renewables added 5.9 times as much net generating capacity and 2.9 times as much electricity production as nuclear power did. By 2010, renewable energy is projected to outstrip nuclear power’s energy output by 43 per cent globally.

But cutting subsidies for fossil fuels and boosting renewables is only part of the answer. Larger and more fundamental questions about the way we live, the nature of our economic system, and how we build meaningful movements for change remain. Tweaking the system to shift resources and make efficiency improvements can be beneficial, but we need to cast the net wider. It’s not enough simply to shout from the rooftops for renewables and then have them installed by the same corporations that fill our petrol tanks. Oil giants such as BP and Shell are already gaining significant market share in the solar and wind sectors respectively. By gobbling up patents on innovative technologies and sucking up research and development monies from the taxpayer, they are putting themselves in a position to influence the pace and direction of such technologies.

The drive to supplant nuclear and fossil fuels must be seen in the wider context of social justice and democracy. Corporate renewables may be great for climate change but do little to contain the threats posed by corporate power. A more radical prescription is needed.

Residents of the Scottish isle of Gigha are certainly pointing the way. Rather than rely on the central grid and the big power companies to provide their energy, the islanders have banded together to buy three wind turbines that are now being used to provide power for the island and even generate revenue by selling the excess to the grid. Gigha residents, who recently bought the island from the landlord, control the whole project and profits are reinvested into the community. Rather than relying on some polluting behemoth hundreds of miles away, the people are literally empowered. And after all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Prof.Dr. D. Ciurchea
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Posted - 11/25/2005 :  15:52:52  Show Profile  Email Poster Send duci a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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Liquid Sunshine

by Paul Emile-Comeau

Nuclear power has long been sold as a utopian technology that would usher in an era when no-one would need to work, energy would be free and limitless, and people would live longer and healthier lives. The cultural impacts of the ‘atom age’ were profound.

Ever since x-rays were discovered over 100 years ago and radium soon after, various applications of radiation-based technologies were devised which captured the public imagination in Europe and North America.

X-ray technology was used for everything from treating headaches to fitting shoes. Radiation cures as a fad lasted for at least 40 years and were used for ringworms, acne, tonsils and adenoids. So-called ‘female problems’ were treated by having ovaries irradiated as a cure for depression, or to bring about menopause. Some paediatricians would routinely fluoroscope pregnant mothers and their babies. People drank radium solutions as an all-purpose tonic, sometimes referred to as ‘liquid sunshine’.

In 1958 Ford came out with a prototype of the Nucleon – a nuclear-powered car. The US Air Force spent $1 billion researching a nuclear-powered fighter jet that would stay aloft forever. One science writer predicted that bad weather would be a thing of the past due to atomic ‘artificial suns’ installed on tall towers. A researcher suggested that the construction of roads could be improved by using reactors to melt highways directly on to the landscape.

With recent hype about fusion technology and the promise of a new fusion age, it would be wise to remember the mistakes of the past.

Paul Emile-Comeau lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Prof.Dr. D. Ciurchea
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Posted - 11/25/2005 :  15:55:25  Show Profile  Email Poster Send duci a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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Minority Report

Do vested interests influence the science on the health effects of low-level radiation, a natural by-product of all nuclear power generation?
    Alice Cutler speaks to British scientific advisor Dr Ian Fairlie about the difficulties scientists face when dealing with the industry.

When did you first become concerned about nuclear power and health?
The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was the main impetus for me to study radiation biology.

How have your political views affected your career?
My political beliefs have existed throughout my career, I guess. I’ve always tried to dig out critical scientific evidence and to use that knowledge to assist NGOs, local authorities, or people adversely affected by radiation. So I’ve been on the list of the ‘politically problematic’ for a while, I suppose. While working on temporary contracts in the civil service, I have been denied permanent positions on many occasions. This was particularly galling when I was clearly more qualified than the persons appointed – I used to receive phone calls from them asking for advice. Within the civil service, you are of course required to button your lip. I think they saw me as having the capacity to leak secrets, although I didn’t do so. So I was kept from access to critical information and given routine jobs. Being an independent consultant is more interesting because it allows you much more freedom of expression.

Have you experienced difficulties publishing your research findings?
I’ve often had critical articles turned down. I now tend to write on subject matters suggested by journal editors. With one or two notable exceptions, many research journals play very safe and publish more and more about less and less, in incredible detail. But publishing in these journals is essential to any scientist’s career. Without published work on your CV, there is neither kudos nor research funding.

What checks and balances exist on the scientific research used to reassure or warn the public, and therefore make science policy? For example, how are government scientific advisory committees appointed?
There isn’t much written about this. Every year millions of pounds of research contracts are awarded to many scientists but the public are uninvolved and unaware of where this public money is going. Research priorities are decided by government committees that most people are unaware of. I know little about them – only that they exist. The public has no influence on who is appointed to these committees. The government basically handpicks those scientists who have views similar to the government’s views. It’s a somewhat murky world of whom you know, who gets warned against and who gets recommended for funding.

How do pro-nuclear policies affect energy policy?
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) spends around £300 million a year in keeping British Energy (the company running most of Britain’s nuclear power stations) afloat. Research and development grants are a huge subsidy to particular industries at the expense of others. If the DTI had invested in renewable energy half of what they have in nuclear research over the past 20 years then we could easily have achieved 20 per cent of our electricity needs from renewable sources.

Do you think there is pressure to suppress scientific evidence?
Yes, but the pressure often tends to be against certain people rather than against particular bits of scientific evidence. When I was a PhD researcher I was once heavily pressured by my university department to apologize to BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Ltd) for a brief comment I’d made in a scientific journal. The problem was that the university department received a large amount of research funding from BNFL which had complained to the University. The pressure was considerable and I finally had to agree to write a letter. The Dean was suitably embarrassed when a week later I was awarded a prestigious fellowship to study at Princeton University in the United States!

In your opinion does the government acknowledge the risks of low-level radiation?
The problem is that the government is generally pro-nuclear, which inevitably means that research findings on greater radiation risks are soft-pedaled or ignored. Many institutions or individuals with real power (for example the Prime Minister, Cabinet Office, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ministry of Defence, various Government Departments, and the Chief Government Scientist) are strongly pro-nuclear, so they are keen to ensure that scientific advice is available which reassures the public that radiation is safe. Even where scientific findings critical about radiation do manage to get published (as in the recent CERRIE Report on the effects of internal radiation)1 the Government shelves them and ignores any uncomfortable implications. The military, nuclear and medical establishments are among the most powerful in Britain, and the question of radiation risks is a vital matter for all three. So it’s important for the government to make sure that radiation risks are ‘handled’ properly – in other words, minimized. This makes it important for critical scientists to make available scientific evidence indicating the contrary.
Alice Cutler is a British freelance journalist and popular-education consultant.
Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent scientific consultant for the World Health Organization, the European Parliament and a number of Government agencies. He currently serves as the Secretariat for the independent Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE).

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Prof.Dr. D. Ciurchea
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Posted - 11/25/2005 :  15:58:25  Show Profile  Email Poster Send duci a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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Britain: Micro is beautiful
Microrenewables – renewable energy technology suitable for home use – are demonstrating enormous potential for individuals literally to take power into their own hands. The New Economics Foundation reports that if a third of electricity customers installed just 2 kilowatts of microrenewables (either wind or solar), it would match the capacity of the British nuclear programme.[1] Furthermore, community-owned and managed renewable energy initiatives are on the rise, with Scotland taking the lead.

Japan: Leading light

Japan – with the third most nuclear reactors of any nation – has been plagued by a series of mishaps at its nuclear stations that have led to plant closures, cost overruns, radiological release and the deaths of workers at facilities. The resultant public disaffection with the technology has led to a massive push by the Government in the area of solar power. By the early 1990s, the Japanese Government began offering subsidies for installing solar panels on households. As a result, ‘rooftop power’ is now cheaper than electricity from the nuclear-fed grid. Solar is doing so well in the country that subsidies are being phased out and still capacity is expected to grow by 20 per cent a year without any extra support. Japan produces more solar power than any other nation on earth.[2]

Germany: Atom Energie? Nein Danke!

Germany was the one of the first leading economic powers officially to announce its intention to phase out the use of nuclear energy. Political will has also helped propel Germany to be one of the leading inspirations for renewable energy policy. A 1991 law forced utilities to buy any renewable power that anyone generated, and at a generous price. Since then, the country’s solar capacity has been expanding by nearly 50 per cent a year. It already produces more energy from the sun than any country except Japan. An estimated 10,000 people are employed in the sector.[3] The vast majority of Germans also support building more wind turbines and expanding renewable energy in the power mix. According to one survey, 70 per cent of Germans favour the construction of additional turbines. With regards to nuclear, 59 per cent of Germans characterize nuclear power and radioactive waste as ‘dangerous’. The Government predicts that by 2020, wind energy will cover 20 per cent of German power use and will be cheaper than power produced from conventional energy sources.[4]

US: You’d be surprised

A 1990 study by five national laboratories surmised that increasing research and development budgets by just the cost of building one nuclear power plant ($3 billion spread over 20 years) could enable renewable energy to provide a half to two-thirds of the total energy then used in the United States by 2030.[5] Despite being the world’s climate pariah, 70 per cent of voters favour policies that would require utilities to generate at least 20 per cent of their electricity from renewable resources.[6] Experts predict photovoltaic generation will grow by nearly 20 per cent a year for the next two decades.[7]

China: Winds of change

By 2020, China expects to supply 10 per cent of its massive electricity needs from renewable energy sources, particularly wind power. It has provided tax incentives for wind technology manufacturers and site developers, standardized electricity rates such that wind compares favourably to coal, and has imposed equipment requirements that help local manufacturers. In February, the Government passed a renewable energy law that institutionalizes many of these measures and sets targets. China’s provinces will also be required to buy electricity from alternative providers, even when the cost is substantially higher. Currently China has an installed wind capacity of approximately 253 million kilowatts, ranking it first in the world.[9]

If current growth rates for solar and wind persist they could provide 45 per cent of global electricity needs by 2020.[10]


[1] Mirage and Oasis: Energy choices in an age of global warming, New Economics Foundation, June 2005.
[2] State of the World Report 2004, WorldWatch Institute, 2005.
[3] ‘One Roof at a Time’, Bill McKibben, Mother Jones, Nov/Dec 2004.
[4] ‘Poll Finds Strong Support for Wind Energy in Germany’, Renewable Energy Today, 5 October 2004.
[5] Scenarios of US Carbon Reductions: Potential Impacts of Energy Technologies by 2010 and Beyond, US Department of Energy, 1990.
[6] Poll:Voters Supporting Increased Generation of Renewable Electricity, Mellman Associates, 2002.
[7] Renewables to the Rescue/The Nuclear Write-off, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2005.
‘In Search of a New Energy Source, China Rides the Wind’, Howard W French, New York Times/IHT, 26 July 2005.
[9] ‘China to Speed up Development of Wind Power Industry’, Beijing Times, 9 May 2005.
[10] ‘Charting a New Energy Future’, Janet L Sawin, State of the World 2003, Worldwatch Institute 2004.

Prof.Dr. D. Ciurchea
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Postbus 59636, 1040 LC Amsterdam, The Netherlands
tel: +31 (0)20 612 6368
fax: +31 (0)20 689 2179
email: wiseamster@antenna.nl
web: You must be logged in to see this link. see also
WISE-Uranium: You must be logged in to see this link.

Greenpeace International
Heldringstraat 5, 1066 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
tel: +31 (0)20 718 2000
fax: +31 (0)20 514 8151
email: supporter.services@int.greenpeace.org
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

Chernobyl Children’s Project International
217 East 86th Street, P MB #275,
New York, NY 10028
tel: +1 888 227 8080
email: info@chernobyl-international.org
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

International Atomic Energy Agency is the UN agency charged with promoting global co-operation on peaceful uses of nuclear technology.
PO Box 100, Wagramer Strasse 5,
A-1400 Vienna, Austria
tel: +43 126 000
fax: +43 126 007
email: info@iaea.org
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta are the Senior Aboriginal Women from Coober Pedy, South Australia.
Irati Wanti Campaign Office, PO Box 1043, Coober Pedy, South Autralia, 5723.
tel: +61 (0)8 8672 3413
email: kungkatjuta@iratiwanti.org
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

The Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia (ANAWA) is a non-profit community group campaigning for an end to the nuclear industry and the adoption of safe energy strategies.
PO Box 37, Maylands, Western Australia 6931
tel: +61 (0)8 9271 4488
fax: +61 (0)8 9371 2271
email: admin@anawa.org.au
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

Australian Conservation Foundation has a vast collection of information on its website.
Floor 1, 60 Leicester St, Carlton,
Vic 3053, Melbourne
tel: +61 (0)3 9345 1111 or 1 800 332 510 (free call in Australia only)
fax: +61 (0)3 9345 1166
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Greenpeace UK
Canonbury Villas, London, N1 2PN
tel: +44 (0)20 7865 8100
fax: +44 (0)20 7865 8200
email: info@uk.greenpeace.org
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Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment are primarily focused on the Sellafield reprocessing facility’s operations and impact on local communities and the environment.
98 Church Street, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria LA14 2HT
tel: +44 (0)1229 833 851
fax: +44 (0)1229 812 239
email: info@core.furness.co.uk
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament occasionally campaigns on nuclear power, though primarily concerned with nuclear weapons.
162 Holloway Road,
London N7 8DQ
tel: +44 (0)20 7700 2393
fax: +44 (0)20 7700 2357
email: enquiries@cnduk.org
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

The Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout (CNP) / Sortir du Nucléaire represents a coalition of Canadian public interest organizations concerned with the environmental consequences of nuclear power generation.
412-1 Nicholas Street, Ottawa,
Ontario K1N 7B7
tel: +1 613 789 3634
fax: +1 613 241 2292
email: info@cnp.ca
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR)
cp 236, Station Snowdon, Montréal, Québec H3X 3T4
fax: +1 514 489 5118
email: ccnr@web.net
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Energy Probe is a consumer and environmental research team, active in the fight against nuclear power, and dedicated to resource conservation, economic efficiency, and effective utility regulation.
225 Brunswick Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2M6
tel: +1 416 964 9223
fax: +1 416 9648239
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Greenpeace Aotearoa/New Zealand
Private Bag 92507, Wellesley Street, Auckland
tel: +64 9 630 6317
fax: +64 9 630 7121
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1424 16th Street NW, #404, Washington, DC 20036, US
tel: +1 202 328 0002
fax: +1 202 462 2183
email: nirsnet@nirs.org
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Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is an independent non-profit alliance of more than 100,000 concerned citizens and scientists.
2 Brattle Square, Cambridge,
MA 02238-9105
tel: +1 617 547 5552
fax: +1 617 864 9405
web: You must be logged in to see this link.

NuclearFiles.org – Basic information about the technology, history and issues.
You must be logged in to see this link.

Nuclear Monitor, international information on nuclear issues 20 times a year. See WISE/NIRS for contact details for your region. Back issues are available free online at You must be logged in to see this link.

See also: Helen and Tom and the Nuclear Reactor, WISE/NIRS Nuclear Supplement special cartoon supplement. Available in English and French through WISE/NIRS (see organization contact details).

Mirage and Oasis: Energy choices in an age of global warming, New Economics Foundation, June 2005. You must be logged in to see this link.

Rachel’s Environment & Health News, Environmental Research Foundation, You must be logged in to see this link.

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: G8, climate change and free-market environmentalism, Carbon Trade Watch, Transnational Institute, July 2005. You must be logged in to see this link.

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