The Real Costs of Nuclear Energy
by Prof. Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service
The only reason that nuclear energy now looks relatively cheap compared to other energy sources is that it receives huge subsidies from governments (that is from the people, without being asked):
1. The operators of nuclear power plants are not held liable for accidents. The Price-Anderson act of 1957 in the USA and similar legislation in other countries, which commits governments (i.e. taxpayers) to cover the damage from nuclear power accidents, represents an unlimited subsidy to the nuclear power industry. No insurance company is willing to insure against nuclear accidents, because they know the damage can be enormous, beyond their capacity to cover it. And they are the experts in estimating risks. Why should people be forced to risk their lives if insurance companies are not willing to risk their money?
2. The operators of nuclear power plants are not held responsible to get rid of their waste. No solution has been found yet to safely dispose of radioactive waste. Plutonium with a half-life of 25’600 years, remains radioactive for about 250’000 years (10’000 human generations) until its radioactivity has declined by 99.9%. We have no right to impose such a burden on future generations, causing cancer and birth defects.
If the nuclear industry was required to absorb these costs that they now shift on others, nuclear energy would not be economically feasible.
The cheapest form of energy seems to be conservation (better insulation of houses against cold weather, using more energy-efficient devices, avoiding unnecessary travel, etc.)
If solar and wind energy had received a fraction of the investments made into nuclear energy, it is likely that they would offer economic sources of renewable energy today. Desertec, which plans to build solar energy collectors and wind parks in the Sahara desert, could supply all the electricity needs of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe on 2% of the Sahara desert (www.desertec.org).
3. A third serious problem with nuclear energy is that anyone who can enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants can also enrich uranium for use in nuclear bombs. It only takes more time to reach a higher concentration of Uranium 235 (0.7% in nature, 3-5% in light water reactors, and 20-90% in nuclear weapons). This risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a danger for all of us.
Dietrich Fischer is the co-founder (with Johan Galtung) of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, academic director of the World Peace Academy in Basel, Switzerland (www.world-peace-academy.ch), and director of the TRANSCEND University Press www.transcend.org/tup. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 3.0 United States License.