No one writes with more passion, commitment and knowledge about the immense dangers of nuclear technology in all its forms than Australian physician and nuclear expert Helen Caldicott. Since writing her first book (must reading for everyone), Nuclear Madness, in 1978, Dr. Caldicott has worked tirelessly to expose the real threat this technology from hell poses to human survival. In her first book she wrote: "As a physician, I contend that nuclear technology threatens life on our planet with extinction. If present trends continue, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink will soon be contaminated with enough radioactive pollutants to pose a potential health hazard far greater than any plague humanity has ever experienced."
In her new book, Dr. Caldicott makes her convincing case in 10 chapters, each one covering a separate crucial issue about commercial nuclear power. Eight of them explain in detail its dangers and problems, and the two final ones propose sensible and urgently needed solutions so far largely unaddressed. But she begins in her introduction with a clear statement that our government has now embarked on a disingenuous and sinister campaign to sell the acceptability of the use and expansion of commercial nuclear technology to the US public long turned off on it by the near disaster at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in March, 1979 and the catastrophic Chernobyl meltdown and explosion in the Ukraine in April, 1986. She begins her detailed account that, contrary to government and industry propaganda, nuclear power is neither efficient, reliable, cheap, clean or safe. It's a very sophisticated, expensive and dangerous way to boil water, turn it to steam, which then turns a turbine to generate electricity.
Dr. Caldicott explains, contrary to government and industry propaganda, that the generation of nuclear power causes the discharge of significant emissions of greenhouse gases as well as hundreds of thousands of curies of deadly radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year. It also requires huge and unjustifiable government subsidies including protection against catastrophic accidents to make it attractive to investors. In addition, and most disturbing, there's the real threat of an attack against any of our 103 nuclear power plants in blowback retaliatory response to hostile US acts against other nations in the past, the two current illegal aggressions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, our one-sided support for Israel's long-running conflict with and current aggression against the defenseless Palestinians and people of Lebanon, and our possible intent to spread the present Middle East conflict to Iran and Syria with the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. US nuclear power plants are notoriously inadequately protected and are thus vulnerable easy targets to strike if a committed antagonist wished to do so. If it happens, the result will be a catastrophic disaster irrevocably affecting the area struck and people now living there.
Adding further to the danger, these plants are atom bomb factories. A 1000 megawatt nuclear reactor produces 500 pounds of plutonium annually, only 10 pounds of which is needed as fuel for a bomb powerful enough to devastate a large city and make it unlivable essentially forever. Dr. Caldicott explains all this and much more in her book, and her mission in writing it and her others, as well as her role as President of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute is to counteract the false rhetoric of governments worldwide and the nuclear power industry touting the so-called benefits of nuclear technology. In her duel roles, she's become perhaps the world's leading advocate for the abolition of a technology too unsafe to be tolerated any longer. She spends all her time dedicated to writing and speaking out around the world telling the public the truths they never hear in the mainstream about this dangerous and unacceptable form of producing energy to get them to demand it be abandoned.
Chapter 1 - The Energetic Costs of Nuclear Power - It Takes Fossil Fuel Burning Power to Produce Nuclear Energy
The American nuclear industry's task of selling its technology to the public is the responsibilithy of its trade association - the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). They do it through a false and misleading campaign of deception to convince the public that nuclear energy is "cleaner and greener" than conventional sources of generating electricity. The truth, however, is quite different. Although a nuclear power plant releases no carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere causing global warming, it requires a vast infrastructure, called the nuclear fuel cycle, which uses huge and rapidly growing amounts of fossil fuels. Each stage of the cycle contributes to the problem starting with the largest and unavoidable energy cost to mine and mill uranium fuel which requires fossil fuel to do it. It continues with the problem of what to do with the mill tailings produced in the uranium extraction process that require great amounts of these greenhouse emitting fuels to remediate when this process is undertaken as it always should be. Other steps in the nuclear fuel cycle also require the use of fossil fuels including the conversion of uranium to hexafluoride gas prior to enrichment, the enrichment process, and the conversion of enriched uranium hexafluoride gas to fuel pellets. In addition, nuclear power plant construction, dismantling and cleanup at the end of their useful life require large amounts of energy. But the process and problems don't end there. The contaminated water that cools the reactor core must be dealt with, and the enormous problem of radioactive nuclear waste handling, transportation and disposal/storage remains unresolved.
Chapter 2 - The True Economic Costs of Nuclear Energy - The Price in Dollars and Cents
Nuclear industry and government propaganda notwithstanding, nuclear power is expensive, and when an inevitable catastrophic meltdown eventually occurs near or in a US city we'll know in grim detail just how much so. The industry falsely claims nuclear power costs 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour to produce compared to 2 cents for coal and 5.7 cents for natural gas. But a report by the New Economic Foundation titled "Mirage and Oasis - Energy Choices in An Age of Global Warming" calculated the true cost to be three times the industry figure if all costs, including capital ones, in the nuclear cycle are included. And even these costs exclude the additional ones of managing pollution, accidents that occur, insurance and security to protect against an attack or internal sabotage.
The true costs and risks of nuclear power are so unattractive to investors that this industry couldn't exist without the many billions of dollars of government spending support it gets including most of the $111.5 billion on energy R & D spent from 1948 - 1998. But heavy government funding will now become even greater as a result of the 2005 Energy bill that's part of an attempt to jump-start this moribund industry. This outrageous bill offers a lavish array of "cradle to grave" subsidies that include tax credits and breaks, loan guarantees, R & D help and risk insurance. It also assures the government will cover the cost of the complex infrastructure needed to transport and store nuclear waste, provide military protection against potential blowback attacks and more. In addition, it reauthorizes the current Price-Anderson Act that will make taxpayers and not the industry pay 98% of the cost in case of a worse case nuclear meltdown that's sure to occur one day. It's part of the same scam that's in place for all other major US industries. It's called socialism for large corporations that write the legislation serving their interests guaranteeing them huge government subsidies and other benefits and capitalism for the rest of us who must pay for them through our taxes.
One of the major and most egregious provisions of the 2005 Energy bill is the repeal of the important Public Utilities Holding Company Act (PUHCA) passed in 1935 as a cornerstone of New Deal financial reform that corrected the abuses of utility holding companies that scammed ratepayers. Now it's again open season for giant power monopolies and other dominant corporations to own nuclear power plants and exploit the public free from regulatory oversight or competition to restrain them. It's all part of a business-government scheme to develop a dangerous industry, largely free it from regulatory oversight, make it profitable for giant US corporations to own and dominate, and get the public to assume all the risks and foot the bill at inflated prices.
The overall cost of nuclear energy rarely, if ever, includes the very significant toll it takes on human health. Those paying the price include uranium miners, nuclear industry workers and potentially everyone living close to these operations. Also affected are residents in areas close to nuclear power plants that routinely or accidently emit toxic radioactive releases that can cause illness, disease and death over time. Chicago is a prime example of what may go wrong. The city is surrounded by 11 nuclear power plants, many of them aging and all of them with histories of safety violations caused by aging and shoddy maintenance. Even if accident free, these facilities (and all others everywhere) discharge enough radiation daily in their normal operations to contaminate the food we eat (even organic food), water we drink and air we breathe into our lungs. But if a core meltdown ever occurs at any of these plants (a real possibility no one is prepared for) and Chicago is downwind of the fallout, the city and suburbs alone would become uninhabitable forever and would have to be evacuated quickly with all possessions left behind and lost (including people's homes) except for what could be carried in suitcases or family vehicles.
Two other groups especially also have and continue to pay an overwhelming and largely hidden price from the toxic effects of radiation poisoning - the people of Iraq and US military force invaders and occupiers who now serve there, have served or will in the future as well as those participating in the 1991 Gulf war. Most of them have potentially been exposed to the deadly effects of so-called depleted uranium (DU) poisoning because of the extensive use of DU munitions by the US military in both Iraq conflicts. These weapons were first developed for the Navy in 1968 and tested by Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war under US supervision. Except for that test, they were never before used by any country prior to the US Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Since then, the US has used them freely, routinely and with deadly consequences to those affected by their fallout.