The alarms raised by the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the dire situation around Ukraine’s war-torn Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant offer the most extreme — and most compelling — case for discontinuing the use of nuclear power.
An attack on Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, six reactors, could lead to a core meltdown, fuel pool fire, or radioactive waste cask breaches that could send radioactive plumes across thousands of miles depending on the size of the disaster and the direction the wind blows.
Fires pose the greatest risk, especially for unprotected fuel pool that are not within the reactor building’s more robust containment area. A fire at any one of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactors or fuel pools could spread quickly to the five other reactors, as was the case at the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disasterIn Japan, the radioactive plume has been increasing in size.
Radioactive fallout from such explosions and fires could persist in the environment for many decades. The 1986 Chornobyl disaster in Ukraine, which involved only one, relatively new reactor with a small radioactive load, rendered 1,000 square miles of land — the Exclusion Zone — too radioactive for human habitation even today. Ukraine is home of 15 reactors. Most of them date back to the 1980s. closed but still dangerous Chornobyl site. They all house large radioactive inventories in fuel in the reactors, and are irradiated in waste casks.
However, it is not enough simply to admonish warring countries, as the United Nations has done, not to shell nuclear power plants — likely unenforceable given the violently entrenched conflict over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Beyond the war zone, nuclear power can also be a liability.
Numerous studiesBeyond Nuclear, a nonprofit advocacy group where I work, has published my work. demonstratedIt is too costly and slow to fix the climate crisis by keeping existing reactors in operation, and even building new ones. Additional to this, nuclear power has not solved its radioactive waste problem. Furthermore, mining the uranium necessary to fuel reactors can lead to serious environmental justice violations.
In the current rapidly changing climate, nuclear power cannot be relied on to operate safely or at all. Many plants are located on the coast. vulnerable to sea-level rise. Flooding is also a concern for inland reactors. All of them are on water bodies that cool the reactor.
Droughts and heat waves can reduce cooling water supplies or make the water too warm for use. This causes reactors to be turned off or to power down. already seen in France. Wildfires could cause catastrophic conflagrations at nuclear plants. Also, nuclear plants need to be shut down during severe weather conditions. All of these problems of reliability are directly linked to the high risks associated with nuclear power.
Also, nuclear power is not an efficient method to reduce carbon emissions. Amory Lovevins, a Stanford professor in civil and environmental engineering, continues to argue that nuclear power is not an efficient way to reduce carbon emissions. point outNuclear power actually makes climate change worse.
Renewable energy can reduce carbon emissions faster than nuclear power and at a lower cost. Combining renewables and energy efficiency is even better. Lovins has demonstrated that in the U.S. it is now possible to combine renewables with energy efficiency. costs more to run the country’s aging reactor fleet than to provide the same services through new renewables, or by using electricity more efficiently.
Also, nuclear power and renewables tend to cancel each others out. Countries that have placed nuclear power as a priority have squeezed out renewables. France is one of the most nuclear-dependent countries. It has very little renewable energy supply to ensure that it can continue operating in case nuclear power goes down because of war, weather extremes, and other factors. France imports its renewable electricity from Germany as a net power exporter, where nuclear power is close to being phased out.
It is also very expensive to use nuclear power. “New plants cost 3–8x or 5–13x more per kWh than unsubsidized new solar or wind power, so new nuclear power produces 3–13x fewer kWh per dollar and therefore displaces 3–13x less carbon per dollar than new renewables,” Lovins wrote in Bloomberg last December.
In fact current analysisIt is clear that nuclear power is the most costly form of energy. However, renewables are the least expensive when you consider the cost of construction and installation. The investment bank Lazard analyzedThe levelized costs for energy (a measure that shows the average net cost to generate electricity over the life of a generator) concludes that solar and wind energy are approximately five times more affordable than nuclear power.
According to the The Cost of Wind and Solar has fallen by 90 percent between 2009-2021, while nuclear costs have risen by 23 percent. 2022 Annual Energy OutlookFrom the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor of civil-environmental engineering, demonstrated this with his year’s work. 100 percent renewable road map,The United States could meet all of its clean energy requirements with renewables and no nuclear power.
Jacobson’s paper also lays to rest the red herring argument over land use. Nuclear proponents claim that nuclear plants occupy less space than solar farms or wind turbines. But Jacobson’s plan “requires only ~0.29% and 0.55% of U.S. land area for footprint and spacing, respectively, for new energy technologies.”
In this context, it is important to remember that a 1,000 mile radius radioactively dangerous exclusion area is not necessarily a productive land use.
Jacobson also addresses concerns around jobs, pointing out that a 100 percent renewable economy delivers “~4.7 million more long-term, full-time jobs than lost across the U.S.”
Even in the COVID-19 recovery environment in 2021, renewable energy still delivered growth on the U.S. labor market. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “solar energy jobs increased by 5.4%, adding 17,212 new jobs. Wind energy jobs increased 2.9%, adding 3,347 jobs. Energy efficiency jobs increased by 2.7%, adding 57,741 new jobs.” Meanwhile, “nuclear electricity, coal, and petroleum jobs decreased in 2021.”
The promised and much-touted “new” reactors remain an illusory mirage. Edwin Lyman, Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in Advanced Isn’t Always BetterThey also have unaddressed safety issues that make it difficult to justify the current financial support they receive, which is largely funded by tax payers.
Many of the so-called next generation of reactor designs are considered “small,” but they can range from truly small 10 megawatts to not really small at all 450-550 megawatts.
One of these “small modular reactors” is the Natrium, a project of billionaire Bill Gates. Gates has already been awarded an $80 million subsidyA scheme that nuclear nonproliferation specialists such as Gregory S. Jones View as a high proliferation threat. Jones sees the project a failure. Jones believes the timeline would make it impossible to deliver the reactor in the timeframe required. This would leave the reactor unfinished for many decades. It would also be too late to address climate change.
To be even slightly economical, small modular reactors must rely on a production line for mass production. This is a very unattractive business proposition. It is cheaper to build one large reactor rather than hundreds or thousands of smaller ones. This is why investors have repeatedly rejected the small modular design.
What is the reason for the stubborn insistency on nuclear energy and government-funded expansion plans? It is clear that it is not the best solution to climate crisis.
A 2017 report by The Energy Futures Initiative — The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise is a Key National Security Enabler — which states that: “a strong domestic supply chain is needed to provide for nuclear Navy requirements. This supply chain has an inherent and very strong overlap with the commercial nuclear energy sector and has a strong presence in states with commercial nuclear power plants.”
A 2019 Atlantic Council report — The US Nuclear Power Complex and its Value for US National Security — reiterates this, stating: “Civil nuclear underpins military nuclear” and that “the lack of a civilian nuclear sector would present an immediate and significant economic shock (and impact on the labor force) — which, in turn, would have immediate and longer-term budgetary implications for the US government.”
This is a connection that many nuclear power opponents fail to recognize. And it’s a pathway further enabled by the IAEA, which is in the business of promoting nuclear energy even as it decries the grave risks around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.