Go Green or Turn Green
By Richard Polley II
A pasty yellow hand slowly lowers, crumbs dropping, into a cup of coffee with a Duff’s beer in hand.
Control rods hang as neutrons collide with uranium atoms, splitting them and in turn these atoms collide with others causing a massive chain reaction. Water begins to blister and boil, the reaction heats the water to about 520 degrees Fahrenheit. Control rods absorb the remaining reaction.
The evaporation steams up a pipe, and releases into the turbine. It condenses, rotating the turbine as it leaks down. The water pumps back into the containment structure and the Nuclear Power process begins once again as the lights in your home switch on.
This long term ideal that Nuclear energy is Green, Sustainable or Renewable is a tall tale, from a false narrative. Cambridge Dictionary states that Green Energy is energy produced in a way that protects the natural environment.
Dictionary.com defines sustainable energy as “energy derived from natural resources that are capable of being replenished.” While Renewable energy is “any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy, as biomass, solar, wind, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power, that is not derived from fossil or nuclear fuel.”
The World Nuclear Association estimated the United States uranium reserves in 2015 at 138 million pounds, one percent of the world’s 12.6 billion pounds.
Uranium is one of the scarcest minerals, making up only two parts per million in the earth’s crust. However to be minded as a fuel it must be sufficiently concentrated in the rock it’s in, cutting the amount of useable uranium in the crust by half, said The Union of Concerned Scientists.
The EPA defines green power as “electricity produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources.” Nuclear energy is not renewable, it’s not sustainable, and it’s definitely not green, unless you count The Incredible Hulk. The EPA even goes as far as to define it as conventional power, labeling it the same as coal, oil, and natural gas.
There are major steps in the nuclear process that were glossed over, mining or finding sources of uranium, venting of overheating from cooling towers in a Nuclear Boiling Water Reactor, nuclear waste storage, and release of steaming water into ecosystems by Nuclear Pressure Water Reactors.
Mining in general is already a hazardous occupation, but adding uranium to the mix brings it to a whole new level of risk. Inhalation or ingesting of contaminated water or food can cause heavy metal poisoning, leukemia, bone cancer and lung cancer.
Uranium tailings are the common waste of mining uranium. When uranium ore remains are brought to the surface and crushed into a fine sand, creating the tailings. If the ore’s remains are not properly managed the sand can be left to dry out causing it to release radon gas, which is also radioactive. Often in these cases the sand particles are spread quickly, carried great distances by wind or water, cited a study on nuclear energy conducted by North Carolina State. After this transpires it’s quite impossible to contain the spread of the radioactive material. Occurrences like this one are a major reason why roughly half the employees of the uranium mining industry work on it’s clean up.
You often hear nuclear power plants release close to or almost “zero greenhouse gasses.” Yet factors such as transportation of nuclear waste, storage, and directly releasing heat into the environment are not factored into the calculation. Although this is not the most concerning point when it comes to emissions at plants.
A single dose of one Sievert (measurement of the biological effect of ionizing radiation) is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea. 5 Sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 Sieverts would prove fatal within weeks, said Justin McCurry from The Guardian.
Annual emissions for U.S. nuclear plants are limited to one miliSievert per person. This exposer alone is estimated to increase the risk of cancer by 0.005 percent. It doesn’t seem like a lot but the only thing that allows nuclear plants to be “safe” are EPA standards. So if you live in another country that allows heavy ventilation of radioactive materials or the EPA lowers its standards prepare for the worst. Prepare for an H-bomb without the blast, and when you’re thinking about this, don’t forget about the jet streams that run across the U.S. and around the world.
U.S. and international standards, regulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, allow for a maximum of 50mSv yearly and 100 mSv every five year for employees in the nuclear field working directly with radioactive material.
The NC State Study specified that “an average person receives around 3.6 mSv per year, and approximately 80 percent of this number comes from natural background radiation and cosmic radiation. The other 20 percent are contributed by the effects of nuclear weapons testing in the early Cold War period (1940-60s).
One source of radioactive emissions can be Nuclear Boiling Water Reactors, it can release slightly radioactive gas. Unlike its counterpart, Nuclear Pressure Water Reactor, BWR can directly contaminate the water it uses for its turbine. Although gasses ventilated in BWRs are monitored closely with radiation detectors. If an “unacceptable level of radioactivity is reached, the ventilation system is shut down and rerouted through a system of filters specifically designed to lower radioactive emissions below acceptable levels,” said NC State’s Study. The PWR on the other hand are known for damaging ecosystems when releasing steaming hot water into local streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes, killing aquatic life due to temperature shock.
If there is a problem in a cooling tower a nuclear plant might be forced to release a dose of radiation far above EPA standards in order to try to deter a meltdown. A meltdown would be far worse but a release of the radiation can still cause inconceivable harm.
Currently there is no technology that allows for nuclear waste to be fully reprocessed leaving us with the only option of storing it. Spent uranium in the U.S. use to be reprocessed into new fuel, until President Jimmy Carter ordered its end in the mid 1970’s citing security risks. Reprocessing doesn’t eliminate all nuclear waste, but does create plutonium as a by-product that could be utilized for Weapons of Mass Destruction, and was more expensive than buying new fuel at the time. It could be seen as the right decision.
Since President Carters decision the Department of Energy has studied long term waste burial sites. So far only one has seen any action, Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Construction has already begun, but licensing has been pending since 1987. Billions have already been spent on this project, but it was put on hold by the previous administration in 2010.
What is dangerous is that since 1987 most radioactive waste has been stored at the nuclear power plants. There they are stored in “spent fuel cooling pools, large steel-lined tanks that use electricity to circulate water. As these pools fill up some fuel rods are being transferred to large steel and concrete casks that are stored underground, which is considered safer,” wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists.
So opening more plants could cause a major problem and create serious risks when it comes to waste. What’s even worse is when a plant shuts down, where does the waste go? Plants are disassembled immediately or often the plant is used as a storage unit for the waste. So you’re left with a power plant that doesn’t produce energy, just uses massive amounts of it. If a plant is ever a target of war it could be even more devastating with the nuclear waste onsite.
“By the end of 2011, over 67,000 metric tons of highly radioactive waste had been produced by American nuclear reactors. That increases by about 2,000 metric tons every year,” said the Union of Concerned Scientists,
“Radioactive elements gradually decay, losing their radioactivity. The time it takes to lose half of its radioactivity is called a ‘half-life.’ U-238, the most common form of uranium, has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.” A half-life is one way of making 9 billion years sound shorter. Every time we bury a rod we are creating a 9 billion year problem.
“Right now, nuclear waste is stored at 121 sites across 39 states,” wrote South Carolina Congressman, Joe Wilson, in The Washington Times.
What makes storing nuclear waste so difficult is some isotopes’ radioactivity start as a bell curve. Waste starts out at low levels of radiation, increase to higher levels and then decrease again. This is caused by the radioactive isotopes breaking down and releasing more radioactive isotopes, said the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The biggest risk associated with “nuclear waste storage is predicted to happen within tens of thousands of years, when waste canisters would degrade from external water exposure, and release radioactive materials into the ground,” said the NC State Study.
The facilities we store them in are under ground and so far the longest lasting storage site is built to last 100,000 years, not including effects from natural disasters, like earthquakes. So why are we creating a 9 billion year problem when we only have a solution for 0.001 percent of the problem. The pushers for nuclear plants either thought “let it be the next generations problem, find the short solution,” or they never had the desire to solve it at all.
The original push for nuclear energy came in the 1970s, when OPEC launched its oil embargo, natural gas had storages, and coal had labor problems. It was the short term answer for energy consumption in the area, and it would stop us from relying on foreign natural resources to produce energy. Yet it hasn’t achieved that goal.
“As of 2012, over 80% of uranium purchased by civilian nuclear reactors was imported to the U.S., not mined domestically, creating a trade deficit. Main suppliers include Russia, Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, and Namibia,” wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists. The U.S. with only with 1% of the world’s uranium, that goal was never achievable.
The history of the human race is a landfill littered with problems we create hundreds of year before we begin the feel the impacts of the symptoms, broken satellites, falling failed space launches, Fukushima is still leaking, Chernobyl is still inhabitable, ground water is being injected with toxicants, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is still floating around in the abyss.
We should stop constructing nuclear power plants and slowly take them offline as we acquire more actual green energy. As the green power plants activate, replace the nuclear plants and other conventional energy sources. Problem is that our only hope in achieving this relatively soon is to not allow The Keystone XL, Dakota Access and other pipelines. If oil companies are not allowed to expand their oil infrastructure in order to exceed profits, then they would be forced to find alternative avenues to reach their equitable profit level. Such as investing in Solar City, Urban Green Energy, PacWind, US Geothermal, First Solar or other green power operations.
With Nuclear Energy off the table think about how the IAEA, US, UN, and other agencies can crack down on Nuclear Proliferation. Countries with a Nuclear Energy program and secret or underground Nuclear weapons programs could now be halted completely if Nuclear Energy is banned or strictly limited and regulated. These power plants typically create or bring in material for Nuclear Weapons under the guise of Nuclear Energy use.
The U.S. and other countries need to start thinking and planning a long term game or the human race might be coming to an end, sooner rather than later.