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 10 Strikes Against Nuclear Power (Why Nukes Are Not a Climate Solution) (from Coop America)


Despite September 11th,TMI and Chernobyl proponents of nuclear power suggest that nuclear power is clean, safe, efficient – the answer to global warming. Not true.

RiskyTerrorists: Reactors are terrorist targets; adding more reactors just increases the number of targets. Accidents: aging parts and simple human error must be considered. Reactors, like any piece of technology, are most likely to break when they are new and again when they age. Our current reactors are old, adding new ones doubles the risk.  The consequences of an accident make the risk unacceptable. Example: Conservative federal studies estimate that a core melt at Pilgrim would result in 3,000 peak early fatalities (within 20 miles) and 30,000 peak early injuries (within 65 miles) in the first year.  A spent fuel accident would be many times worse – according to the recent National Academy of Sciences report an accident could contaminate hundreds of miles downwind.

If nuclear reactors are so safe, why don’t they insure themselves against accidents instead of leaving that to taxpayers, Price Anderson Act?

Dirty - Reactors produce waste hazardous for thousands of years with no sure place to safely store it.  We would need a new Yucca-style dump every 4 years for 1,500 new reactors –the number of new reactors needed to put a dent in climate emissions. We can not handle the radioactive waste we have, now. Even if Yucca Mountain is licensed, it will take about 50 years to transfer current waste there because Yucca can process a maximum of 3,000 tons of waste annually, while nuclear reactors generate 2,000 new tons of waste each year. That means a net reduction of just 1,000 tons a year. More important with re-licensing old plants and building more, Yucca will reach capacity simply by the waste generated by 2013. Therefore, reactor sites will remain dangerous and ever-growing radioactive dumps – providing terrorists with lethal targets.

Pollutes - Reactors release radioactivity to the air and water as part of normal day-to-day operation. Studies reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences show that low, constant levels of radiation exposure are more dangerous than previously assumed - causing cancer and genetic mutations.  Example: the footprints of radiation-linked disease can be seen in communities surrounding Pilgrim NPS – elevated rates of leukemia and thyroid cancers.

Global Warming – Proponents of nuclear power incorrectly argue that since the nuclear fission process emits no carbon dioxide, increasing nuclear power production can help address global warming.  An analysis of the entire nuclear fuel cycle reveals that nuclear power does result in carbon dioxide emissions from mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining, in fact, is one of the most carbon intensive industrial operations. Add all the CO2 emissions up and nuclear power releases 4-5 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced than renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Proliferation – More reactors is a proliferation risk and encourages countries to build nuclear weapons. Every year a thousand megawatt reactor produces an estimated 293 kilograms of plutonium – if operating at 80% capacity, enough plutonium every year to make 40 nuclear bombs. If the nuclear reactor continues operating for a total of 30 years, it will have produced enough plutonium for at least 1200 bombs.

We have alternatives - We can reduce global warming pollution using energy efficiency and clean renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass.  A 2004 study by Synapse Energy Economics found that America could reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide from electricity generation by more than 20 percent while saving $36 billion annually by 2025, and we could do it while cutting our reliance on nuclear power by nearly half.

Expensive/ Impractical - Taxpayers and ratepayers heavily subsidize the industry making our electric bills far too high. Construction costs are prohibitive, more than $4 billion per reactor. In order to put a dent in climate emissions we would need to build 1,500 worldwide and 300 in the U.S. Reactors take 7-10 years to build.

No Public benefit; but plenty of risk - There is no public benefit to justify building more reactors, and re-licensing old ones for that matter. Cheaper and safer replacement power is available. In fact funding nuclear reactors is counterproductive and drains resources from real climate change solutions – renewable energy and efficiency.

It’s the cars stupid – Fossil-fueled vehicles, not electricity, are the chief culprit in greenhouse gas emissions.


Pilgrim's contribution to the electric grid

Pilgrim NPS generates about 2% of the power in the electric grid that Massachusetts residents, businesses, and industries tap into for their power.

New England Electric Power Grid – ISO

Massachusetts relies on electricity drawn from the ISO -New England electric grid. ISO pools power generated throughout New England. Generators connected to the ISO-New England grid have a combined capacity of 32,000 MW. The Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station contributes about 2% of this capacity.[1]

Because we are plugged into the grid, Massachusetts is not specifically dependent on electricity generated within the state; instead, we tap into power from hundreds of generators throughout the six New England States.

If any one power plant shuts down, like Pilgrim NPS, the lost power will only constitute a small fraction of the power being delivered by the grid. 


Energy Capacity Mix (MW) ISO-NE 2003[2]


 Fuels used to generate electricity in New England

 [Source ISO New England]

Fuel 1980 2004
Natural Gas 1% 29%
Oil 56% 4%
Oil/Gas 0% 12%
Nuclear 27% 28%
Coal 5% 12%
Hydro 4% 5%
Other 8% 10%


Power Generation Comparisons -  Source ISO, 2003


Peak Production


Fuel used to

Generate power

# Houses Powered

Based on Avg. Household Use of 500 Kilowatts

Cape Wind

Nantucket Wind Farm

420 mw



Pilgrim NPS


673 mw



Sithe Energy Fore River, Weymouth

775 mw

Natural Gas



Southern Energy Canal Station


1,124 mw





Renewable Energy and Efficiency:

Key to Meeting Future Electricity Needs

Increasing electricity generation from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and reducing demand through energy efficiency programs offer distinct advantages to Massachusetts.


The quickest, and most efficient, way to meet our energy needs and the problems of climate change is to devote more resources to energy efficiency programs.

  • One dollar invested in energy efficiency will reduce CO2 emissions more than will seven dollars invested nuclear power - Rocky Mountain Institute.

  • Energy efficiency alone could account for 60 percent of the emissions reduction necessary to meet the Kyoto protocol - the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy(ACEEE)

Clearly, nuclear power is not the way to address global warming and climate change. It would simply substitute one poison for another.

Massachusetts’ economy would also benefit from investing in renewable energy and efficiency instead of nuclear– not only providing a cheaper energy source but also stimulating our high tech industries so once again they can gain prominence in this growing and lucrative field.

Massachusetts has taken some steps down this path.  For example, the Renewable Energy Trust at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is working with policy makers, energy experts, and independent developers to meet its goal of 750-1000 MW of new renewable power in Massachusetts by 2010.[3]  


San Francisco Chronicle - Nuclear energy can't solve global warming--Other remedies 7 times more beneficial - Mark Hertsgaard  Aug 7, 2005

The case against nuclear power as a global warming remedy begins with the fact that nuclear-generated electricity is very expensive. Despite more than $150 billion in federal subsides over the past 60 years (roughly 30 times more than solar, wind and other renewable energy sources have received), nuclear power costs substantially more than electricity made from wind, coal, oil or natural gas. This is mainly due to the cost of borrowing money for the decade or more it usually takes to get a nuclear plant up and running.

Remarkably, this inconvenient fact does not deter industry officials from boasting that nuclear is the cheapest power available. Their trick is to count only the cost of operating the plants, not of constructing them. By that logic, a Rolls-Royce is cheap to drive because the gasoline but not the sticker price matters. The marketplace, however, sees through such blarney. As Amory Lovins, the soft energy guru who directs the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado think tank that advises corporations and governments on energy use, points out, "Nowhere (in the world) do market-driven utilities buy, or private investors finance, new nuclear plants." Only large government intervention keeps the nuclear option alive.

A second strike against nuclear is that it produces only electricity, but electricity amounts to only one third of America's total energy use (and less of the world's). Nuclear power thus addresses only a small fraction of the global warming problem, and has no effect whatsoever on two of the largest sources of carbon emissions: driving vehicles and heating buildings.

The upshot is that nuclear power is seven times less cost-effective at displacing carbon than the cheapest, fastest alternative -- energy efficiency, according to studies by the Rocky Mountain Institute. For example, a nuclear power plant typically costs at least $2 billion. If that $2 billion were instead spent to insulate drafty buildings, purchase hybrid cars or install super-efficient lightbulbs and clothes dryers, it would make unnecessary seven times more carbon consumption than the nuclear power plant would. In short, energy efficiency offers a much bigger bang for the buck. In a world of limited capital, investing in nuclear power would divert money away from better responses to global warming, thus slowing the world's withdrawal from carbon fuels at a time when speed is essential.

Mainstream environmentalists do argue that energy efficiency, solar, wind and other renewable fuels are better weapons against global warming than nuclear is. But they will fare better if they go a step further and point out that embracing nuclear is not just unnecessary but a step backward.

Even so, a tough fight lies ahead. As the energy bill illustrates, the nuclear industry has many friends in high places. And the case for nuclear power will strengthen if its economics improve. The key to lower nuclear costs is to reduce construction times, which could happen if the industry at last adopts standardized reactors and the Bush or a future administration streamlines the plant approval process.

Resources and Links to learn more

Union Concerned Scientists

Renewable Energy Policy Project

American Wind Energy Association

Cape Wind

Sustainable Minnesota

Rocky Mountain Institute



[1] ISO-New England. “Welcome to ISO-New England,”

[2] ISO- New England, “NEPOOL 2003-2012: Forecast Report of Capacity Energy Loads and Transmission,” April 2003.

[3] Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, “Putting New Ideas to Work for Massachusetts,