Here are my notes from a speech by Helen Caldicott, author of the book Nuclear Power is not the answer.
The most carcinogenic industry in the history of the world is the nuclear industry, much more so than the tobacco or asbestos industry. It is a carcinogenic industry which over generations will produce random genetic compulsory engineering and epidemics of malignancy, particularly in children for the rest of time. Quite simply, it is a killing industry. Once moribund, after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, it has recently received attention because of global warming and increased oil and gas prices.
A map of Europe shows that 40% of Europe is still radioactive, from the effects of Chernobyl. Even food that is considered ‘organic’ in Europe can be radioactive. This is a good reason to not buy food from Europe, on principle alone. The incubation time for cancer once you are exposed to radioactive material is 5 or 6 years. Cancers do not usually denote their origin.
From the beginning, we have known radioactivity causes cancer. During the Manhattan project, the scientists who worked with Plutonium became vividly aware of the toxic effects of Plutonium. When they tested Plutonium and injected it into Beagle dogs, they couldn’t find a low enough dose that didn’t give all the dogs cancer.
What is nuclear power? Albert Einstein once said: “nuclear power is a hell of a way to boil water”. It is a crazy way to boil water.
Some propose nuclear power as the answer to global warming. When you dig up Uranium, it is done so with huge machinery and trucks, all fueled by fossil fuels. This alone contributes massive amounts of CO2, the main global warming gas. Mining Uranium is dangerous. 20% to 50% of all men who have mined die of lung cancer. How does this happen? Uranium consistently emits radon, which is a radioactive gas. Radon gas gets into the lungs, radiating a tiny amount of cells, and later on those men get lung cancer.
Another material associated with uranium is radium. It is the daughter of Uranium. Radium is a cacium analog. If you ingest radium in dust, it goes straight to your bones, and irradiates a tiny volume of cells. It often leads to bone cancer or leukemia. Those men who mine Uranium are at risk for lung cancer, bone cancer, and leukemia. They are also exposed to gamma radiation, like an X-ray. Low doses, but the whole body receives the radiation dose in the case of gamma radiation, including the testicles. In a male, these are the most crucial organs, from an evolutionary perspective. If your testicles are irradiated, you have damaged children, or you can pass genetic abnormalities on to your offspring. There are currently over 16,000 genetic abnormalities described, including diabetes, mental retardation, and cystic fibrosis. People often don’t know they carry these genes until they or their decedents mate with someone who shares the same gene. Because it is a recessive gene, genetic abnormalities such as cystic fibrosis may take as many as 20 generations to express itself.
How does radiation cause cancer? Your body is made of trillions of cells. In every cell there is a gene that controls the rate of division. It that gene is damaged by radiation, via X-rays. Radiation damages the regulatory gene in a biomechanical way, the DNA molecule. The cell will then sit latent quietly, anywhere from 5 to 60 years. That is called a latent period of carcinogenesis. Then one day, instead of the cell dividing itself by mitosis, into 2 daughter cells, it goes berserk, and produces millions and trillions of cells. That is a cancer. That is cancer. In other words, it takes a single mutation in a single gene in a single cell to kill you. Another thing is that in the eggs and sperm of all future generations, and cause genetic abnormalities or deformities in their offspring.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if all electricity today was generated by nuclear power, we would only have enough on planet earth for about about 9 years of use. It is a very finite resource that leaves radioactive waste that lasts for over a 500,000 years.
When uranium is mined, you crush the uranium with big crushers(more fossil fuels used, more co2 emissions), then it’s taken to Padooka, Kentucky, and it is converted to a gas called Uranium Hexafloride. That gas is forced through tiny little nickle pores in a large nickle plate. It requires so much electricity to do this, that the uranium enrichment plant has 2 huge coal fired plants to supply the electricity. When you burn coal it burns more co2. 93% of the CFC gas in America that is released comes from that enrichment plant from leaking pipes. CFC gasses destroy the Ozone layer, which leads to increased skin cancers through Melanoma. That is why CFC gasses are banned under the Montreal Protocol. However, the nuclear industry for some reason has been “grandfathered” out of the Montreal Protocol. CFC is is 10,000 to 20,000 times more potent as a global warmer than co2.
Nuclear power also requires a huge reactor, made of concrete, which requires more co2 emissions. After about 24 years of operation, you have to decommission a nuclear power plant, because it becomes so radioactive that it is not safe for people to go into it anymore because of the huge doses of radiation they will be exposed to. So they have to let it cool for decades, then cut it apart piece by piece using robotic machinery(more co2 emissions). Then the radioactive waste has to be cooled for decades. circulating water through it(more co2 emissions). Then it has to be packed into trucks and transported to a place nobody can decide on; nobody seems to be sure what to do with the waste. It must then be stored for 500,000 years.
The nuclear power industry’s answer to the problem of what to do with the radioactive waste is essentially this: “Trust us, we’re good scientist, we’ll figure out a solution in the future”. It’s like a doctor saying to a patient: “You’ve got a pancreatic carcinoma, You’ll probably die in 6 months, but trust me, I’m a fantastic scientist and in 20 years time I’ll find a cure.”
The men who are creating the nuclear power and nuclear waste have no proof they will find a cure, and they will all be dead relatively soon. In science, you develop a hypothesis that you can either prove or disprove in your lifetime. You don’t simply pass it down to the next generation. This is an issue on which the nuclear power industry lies with impunity. They continually say they know what to do with radioactive waste, when the reality is they do not. Most of them are simply unconcerned with the long-term results of the problem they are creating. They are more consumed with creating energy, sometimes with seemingly good intentions(reduce co2 emissions),and which they will profit from handsomely from. Scientist’s are not supposed to lie, especially when it comes from from an industry that will produce so much death, disease, and tragedy. When anti-nuclear advocates talk about treating a child dying of cystic fibrosis or leukemia, they are accused of using emotional arguments. It’s as if they are saying you cannot be credible if you allow your right brain to enter the equation, and show some emotion. When these people see loved one’s die from the effects of radiation, do they not show emotion?
At the moment, a nuclear power plant creates 30% of the amount of co2 as a similar size gas-powered plant. But as the concentration of uranium in the available ore declines, within 10 or 20 years nuclear power will produce the same amount of global warming gasses as a fossil fuel plant. So you may as well burn the fossil fuels.
When the Uranium is made, it is enriched into Uranium-235, which is made into little pellets like chalk, and packed into fuel rods 1/2” thick and 12’ long, and then is taken to a reactor. There, 100 tons of the Uranium is packed into the core, and is submerged into water. As you pull out the moderating rods, the mass of Uranium reaches critical mass, and the process of E=mc2 occurs. Energy equals the mass by the speed of light squared. Tremendous heat is produced, and the heat boils the water, and the steam is taken off, which turns the turbine, which produces electricity. When you generate electricity from nuclear power, 200 elements are created which never existed before that never existed before we fisioned Uranium. Among them is radioactive Iodine, which produces cancer.
Did I mention there is nowhere to store the waste. Nobody wants it, but anyone who is in favor of nuclear energy doesn’t want to talk about that. They would rather sidestep that crucial issue and suggest irresponsible solutions such as shooting it up into space or developing promising “new technology” to take care of the radioactive waste that will still be here poisoning future generations long after they are gone.
Since nuclear power is not a responsible solution, what are some better ideas for providing ourselves with clean energy in the future?
The biggest lie about nuclear energy other than the nuclear waste storage issue is that it is somehow a solution for global warming. This is simply a marketing ploy in a very disingenuous attempt to make nuclear energy look green, in the name of scoring government subsidies. Here is an excerpt from the book about the impact of nuclear energy on global warming:
Tragically, more and more people are believing the myths propagated by the nuclear industry about nuclear power—that it is emission free, produces no greenhouse gases, and is therefore the answer to global warming. Before the British election in May 2005, the nuclear industry slowly and surely fashioned a classy public relations campaign targeting politicians, media, and the British public. (That campaign, coordinated by the Nuclear Industry Association, cleverly did not address the dubious benefits of nuclear power but focused instead upon the current shortcomings of wind-generated electricity and other alternative power sources.)
The British Department of Trade and Industry (DIT) also viewed the 2005 election as an opportunity to promote nuclear power. Adrian Gault, director of DIT’s strategy group, made a wild and uninformed prediction that nuclear power would be supplying half of Britain’s electricity by 2050 while cutting greenhouse emissions. (Meanwhile, in 2001, DIT’ s Nuclear Industries Directorate had already agreed to participate in an international consortium to build the next generation of nuclear reactors—to be constructed by a British or American company. So their real agenda had been established four years earlier, and the propaganda campaign in May 2005 was merely an attempt to bring the British public around to seeing the wisdom of preordained policy.)
The British nuclear industry is working hard to persuade members of parliament and other influential public figures of the benefits of nuclear power. Dr. James Lovelock, the UK-based scientist who developed the Gaia theory, now wrongly advocates the use of nuclear power as one solution to the global warming crisis. Sir David King, chief UK government science advisor, says that nuclear power plants are the only realistic way to satisfy growing energy demands while meeting global warming targets. And former UK Greenpeace leader Peter Melchett, who now works for the giant public relations company Burson-Marsteller, has also publicly endorsed this concept. The British nuclear industry has sacrificed full disclosure and jettisoned truth in order to ensure a new round of government subsidies for nuclear power. The government subsidy program for the nuclear industry—which might be dubbed the “Security of Supply Obligation”—amounts in essence to the socialization of nuclear power, ensconced within a “free market” economy.
In England in 2006, nuclear power has risen to the top of the political agenda, as government ministers and public officials rush to address an impending energy crisis, driven by Russia’s January 2006 decision to cut off its natural gas supplies to the Ukraine and hence to much of Europe. This scare helped to convince an already compliant Prime Minister Blair and senior people at the UK Department of Trade and Industry that new nuclear power stations are needed.
In the United States and Canada, leading environmentalists similarly seem to have been swayed by the Bush/Cheney/nuclear industry rhetoric. Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue; Gus Speth, the dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; and former Greenpeace Canada leader Patrick Moore, who now consults for the mining, fishing, and timber industries—all seem to have accepted the nuclear industry’s propaganda as fact. Meanwhile, it is increasingly critical to set the record on nuclear power straight, as international battles for oil threaten to morph into world wars, and leading NASA scientists are taken to task by the Bush administration for daring to tell the truth about global warming.
It is interesting to speculate why President Bush and Vice President Cheney are so beholden to and enamored of the nuclear power industry, an industry that has never actually been exposed to the chill winds of the market economy they unfailingly espouse elsewhere. As neither the president nor the vice-president can boast a scientific education, they would be hard pressed to understand the scientific and medical problems associated with this arcane industry. Both are oilmen who have made a great deal of money directly or indirectly through that industry; they are deeply indebted to big business for political contributions; and they overtly seem not to be interested in the health and well being of the American people, let alone the dire situation facing the planet in the form of global warming, and the threat of nuclear meltdowns and nuclear pollution.
Ironically, while the Bush administration is reluctant to admit that global warming is really happening and that it could be caused by deleterious human activities, it is using the issue of global warming to justify the increased production of nuclear power, which, it claims, is the answer to (the non-existent problem of) global warming. Claiming, as Cheney does, that atomic electricity produces no carbon dioxide, the culprit responsible for 50% of atmospheric heating, the U.S. nuclear propaganda apparatus has been shifted into high gear to convince politicians and public alike that there can be and will be no other reasonable solution apart from nuclear power to answer this catastrophic global problem now threatening many life forms with extinction. Global warming has been a great gift to the nuclear industry.
Fewer than ten days after taking office, Cheney promised to “restore decency and integrity to the oval office,” while he simultaneously took charge of the administration’s energy task force, called the National Energy Policy Development Group. On April 17,2001, Cheney met with Kenneth Lay, the CEO of the now disgraced Enron Corporation, to discuss “energy policy matters” and the “energy crisis in California.” Following that meeting, Lay gave Cheney a three-page wish list of corporate recommendations. A subsequent comparison of that memo against the final report of the National Energy Policy Development Group showed that the task force had adopted all or significant portions of the Lay memo in seven of eight policy areas. In total, seventeen policies sought by Enron were adopted.
Cheney and his aides met at least six times with Lay and other Enron officials while preparing the task force report, which is now the basis of the administration’s energy proposals. Cheney’s staff also met with an Enron sponsored lobbying organization, the “Clean Power Group.” Cheney, his aides, and cabinet departments have repeatedly refused requests for the records of these meetings, despite the fact that the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 says that task forces like Cheney’s must conduct public meetings and must keep publicly available records. While we do not know, as a result, what Enron may have advocated in that meeting with respect to nuclear energy, we do know that Enron made significant contributions to the Bush/Cheney campaign, the Florida recount fight fund, and to the Bush/Cheney inauguration—a situation that calls into question whether legal and ethical guidelines were crossed.
The American Nuclear Society recently held a meeting in San Diego that drew scientists and industry professional from all around the world. The prevailing mantra was simple—surprise the opponent, plan ahead, coordinate, be pro-active not reactive, and engage and communicate with antinuclear groups. This extensive propaganda campaign is global. A formally chartered organization composed of the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, called the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), is collaborating with the U.S. Nuclear Energy research Advisory Committee to elucidate the benefits, technical and institutional barriers, and research needs for the most promising nuclear energy system concepts.
Other countries engaged in the possible construction of nuclear power plants include China, which already has nine nuclear reactors and plans to build another thirty nuclear power plants. (Even if it builds its thirty plants, however, nuclear power will still provide only 5% of its energy mix, while the percentage of China’s electrical generation capacity by natural gas is expected to increase from 1% today to over 6% by 2030 according to the International Energy Agency.) New nuclear power capacity is under consideration or construction in India, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Belarus, Vietnam, Poland, and South Korea. Russia as well as Finland have several plants under construction.
Nuclear power is often referred to behind closed doors in the U.S. Department of Energy as “hard” energy whereas wind power, solar power, hydropower, and geothermal energy are referred to as “soft” energy pathways. Clearly the same psychosexual language used by the Pentagon generals to describe various aspects of nuclear weapons and nuclear war has been translocated into the nuclear power vocabulary of some very powerful and influential men in the electricity generating field. As a physician, I contend that unless the root cause of a problem can be ascertained there can be no cure. So too the pathology intrinsic in the nuclear power gang needs to be dissected and revealed to the cold light of day.
The potential for growth in the renewable non-CO2 producing sectors is enormous. All that is required is a commitment by government leaders to urgently enact serious laws mandating energy conservation, and to shift the subsidies currently provided to the nuclear power industry to alternative and renewable electricity generation. Corporations as well should be incentivized to invest in exciting and diverse non-polluting energy technologies. In truth, the earth is in the intensive care unit, and the prognosis is poor indeed unless we all take courageous measures.