Maria Arvaniti Sotiropoulou: Nuclear power plants are NOT the solution for cheap, clean and safe energy

[The Hellenic Network of NatureFriends Greece republishes the article / intervention of Maria Arvanitis – Sotiropoulou on “Nuclear power plants today are NOT the solution for cheap, clean, safe energy”. Nowadays, in the face of the deadlocks and the failure to address the climate crisis, the increase in the price of natural gas and the placement of MEGA Renewable Energy Sources in the mountains and islands of Greece, nuclear energy is coming back as an “antidote”.

We are particularly concerned:

α) French President Emmanuel Macron’s “ambitious €30 billion investment plan included €1 billion for the creation of the new generation of small nuclear reactors known as SMRs”

b) The fact that France’s Minister of Finance and Economy Bruno Le Maire, in an open letter to the EU Commission, called for the expansion of nuclear power in Europe and its recognition as a “sustainable, clean, safe, independent and competitive source of low-carbon energy.” The letter was also signed by government representatives from Romania, the Czech Republic, Finland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

It is obvious nowadays that there is an urgent need to create and develop a global, European and national movement against nuclear weapons (energy and weapons of war).

Kostas Foteinakis – President of the Naturefriends Greece]

Nuclear power plants are NOT the solution for cheap, clean and safe energy
Maria Arvaniti Sotiropoulou

After Fukushima, the propagandists of the nuclear industry remained silent. With the recent rise in energy prices we have seen many articles published, again advertising that nuclear power plants are the cheap, economical, reliable energy solution, downplaying the safety issue that used to dominate. There has even been a proposal to build a nuclear power plant in Greece, in the footsteps of Erdogan, who is known to be building nuclear power plants because – as he has stated – he wants nuclear weapons.

In fact

1) Nuclear power remains expensive even in countries like France where many aging nuclear plants are operating. According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average cost of producing nuclear power is about $100 per megawatt-hour. Compare that to the $50 per megawatt-hour of solar and $30 to $40 per megawatt-hour for wind turbines. The Lazard Financial Group recently stated that the cost of renewables is now equal to or below the cost of traditional energy sources, namely fossil fuels, and much lower than nuclear.

Although in theory the high costs and long time required to build nuclear power plants should have receded in the half century of development and unlike other technologies, the cost of nuclear power has been rising steadily. Even its proponents recognize that it will never again become competitive in a free market environment. Both the Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency have concluded that although nuclear power is “a proven low-carbon source as a source of electricity generation”, its industry must address the serious problems of cost, safety and waste disposal if it is to play a role in future climate-controlling energy production.

2) Catastrophic nuclear accidents, though rare, can cause massive levels of physical and psychological consequences, and medicine asserts that late effects of radiation exist. No technological system is perfect, but the vulnerability of nuclear power is too great. Improvements in design cannot eliminate the possibility of fatal meltdowns. Such possibilities are the result of extraordinary weather conditions, geophysical events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis (such as the one that caused the Fukushima disaster), technical problems, and the inevitable human errors. Climate change itself works against nuclear plants since severe droughts lead to reactor shutdowns as the surrounding water becomes too hot to cool the core.

Nuclear advocates typically downplay the catastrophic consequences at Fukushima and Chernobyl. They point out that relatively few direct deaths were recorded in these two disasters. The chaos in both disasters and the extremely poor management of the crisis by the authorities led to a great disparity in the estimates. But up-to-date scientific calculations in relation to Chernobyl predict future deaths from Chernobyl from tens of thousands to half a million. Studies at Chernobyl and Fukushima also reveal a psychological disability due to fear of invisible contamination. This fear overwhelmed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people in Fukushima painfully relate their experience to that of atomic bombed cities. The situation in Fukushima is not yet safe. This fear also engulfed Chernobyl, where there was a huge movement of forced displacement and where whole areas were poisoned with radiation and remain uninhabited.

3) The combination of actual and anticipated effects of radiation and the fear of invisible contamination occurs wherever nuclear technology was used. This is the case not only in cities bombed with nuclear weapons and in major accidents, but also at Hanford in the UK, in connection with the plutonium waste from the construction of the Nagasaki bomb, the Rocky Flats, after dozens of nuclear construction sites, the nuclear test sites in Nevada and wherever soldiers were exposed to radiation from nuclear testing, and at the Marshal Islands, the main testing site of the H-Bomb, where recent measurements have shown that even today it remains the most radioactive spot on the planet.

4) Nuclear reactors also raise the problem of nuclear waste for which no adequate solution has been found despite half a century of scientific and technological efforts. Even when a nuclear power plant is deemed unreliable and closed, as was the case with the Pilgrim reactor at Plymouth in the UK, or closed for economic reasons, as was the case at Vermont Yankee in the USA where the accumulated radioactive waste remains on-site dangerously and practically eternal. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the US attempted to build a permanent nuclear waste disposal site 40 years later. However, this has not been done despite failed attempts at the deep burial site at Yuka, Nevada. Because there is no solution, nuclear waste in Europe is secretly transported by trains to Italian ports for further transport to Africa, but most of the time it is deliberately dumped in the Mediterranean Sea, mainly in the Ionian region.

One solution that was tried was to use nuclear waste to produce depleted uranium from which weapons were made and used in the war led by the USA against the Iraq. Despite its relatively low level of radioactivity, it caused health problems of Iraqi and American soldiers – “the Gulf War Syndrome” – and contaminated the environment to such an extent that they were eventually banned and abandoned.

5) The greatest dangers are plutonium, obtained from nuclear reactors and Highly Enriched Uranium that serves as the basis of nuclear weapons construction. Uranium enrichment technology for commercial purposes can easily be used produce to uranium for nuclear weapons. When a nuclear reactor is in fuel fission, it produces plutonium, which is extremely toxic, resulting in high levels of radioactive waste. Wherever an extensive nuclear power program is initiated, there is the possibility of nuclear weapons being built. Of course, this possibility makes nuclear reactors an attractive target for terrorists.

As of July 2019, there were 416 nuclear reactors operating in the world. If nuclear power is adopted as a solution to combat climate change, as is currently proposed, this number will multiply and create a deadly nuclear danger zone. It is absurd to dismiss this concern and to insist, after more than half a century of experience, that a “fourth generation” of nuclear power plants will make a difference. Advocates of nuclear energy often compare it with coal-dependent energy sources. But coal is not the issue any longer as it is retiring from the world stage.

Nowadays, the correct comparison is between nuclear and renewable energy sources. Renewables are part of an economic and energy solution. They are already available much faster, more widely and cheaper than experts predicted and public acceptance is high. Using renewables in a first phase will be followed by improvements in energy storage, grid integration, small appliances and electric vehicles.

The Covid-19 pandemic taught us that global cooperation is possible. We can still make a global effort that will succeed in making renewable energy a way of life for all. Natural gas and nuclear power will only play a transitional role. It is not reasonable for a supposedly cheaper solution to install a technology on the planet that has persistently failed to work properly and poses profound threats to our bodies and souls.

In conclusion, nuclear is NOT the solution because it is:
1. Too dangerous because the safe transport and storage of radioactive residues is unsolvable and there is a risk of Chernobyl & Fukushima type disasters.
2. Too expensive. The cost to build, operate and deconstruct is huge and this is why the energy produced by nuclear power is among the most expensive ones.
3. Too late. In the Western world because designing and building a nuclear plant takes 20-30 years, too late to affect climate change.
4. Too inefficient. Even if thousands of nuclear power plants were built, their share of energy production in 2050 would only be 10%.
Nuclear is not the solution to any human problem in war or peace. The sooner we get rid of nuclear power, the better it is for the future of humanity.

Maria Arvaniti Sotiropoulou
President of the Greek branch of IPPNW
ICAN Representative in Greece

Member of Naturefriends Greece