WAKE UP AND SMELL THE NUCLEAR WASTE
The Nuclear War Raging in America
By Jerri Ann Lewis
Edited By Megan Maloy
It seems like a terrible nightmare, the kind you have after staying up and watching a scary science fiction movie about some catastrophic event, except it's real and it can happen to you at any moment. What is "IT"? It is all about Nuclear Power Plants and Nuclear Waste sites.
Nuclear Power is created, just like fossil fuels, by splitting atoms to make heat. The heat is used to run generators (nuclear reactors) that manufacture electricity. While Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) produce 20% of America's electricity, they also produce large amounts of Nuclear Waste.1
While nuclear waste is the most obvious disadvantage, there are also numerous other disadvantages that seem to get "swept under the rug" by the Department of Energy. What people fail to realize is that nuclear power plants and nuclear waste dumps are spread across the United States. The numbers of people, animals, and areas effected by possible "accidents" causing radioactive emissions within or around these facilities are immeasurable.
One possible "accident" could be a terrorist attack. Most people for nuclear power believe terrorist attacks to NPP's are not likely. Nevertheless, the plane that hit the Pentagon was only about 120 miles from Three Mile Island (a famous NPP's with a history of problems).2 To some people that might be regarded as a little too close for comfort.
Another problem the nuclear power plants have is the systematic upgrading of the buildings' safety and security features, as well as, maintenance of nuclear reactors and components. Nuclear reactors only have an approximate life-span of thirty years. Once a nuclear reactor has reached "the end", its parts must be replaced or the entire plant must be shut down.3 Either of these actions can be very costly.
Storing and disposing of nuclear waste is a major disadvantage of nuclear power. Water pools are used for temporary storage of waste. There are countless ways of permanent storage that have been considered, such as burying waste-filled containers in 131 locations , leaving containers in large warehouses, or shooting it into space.4 Since none of these methods are perfect solutions to containing radiation, there is currently no reliable method for storing or disposing of the toxins.
Transporting wastes, however, is another story. If a new proposal by the Bush Administration passes, it will reduce the transportation regulations on certain levels of radioactive materials. This would increase the amounts of unregulated materials shipped by land, water, and air. In turn, this would also change the definition of radioactive waste, making some everyday landfills new drop-off sites for "low-activity" nuclear waste.5 Of course, like most proposals from the Bush Administration, it revolves around money. Hauling and dumping nuclear waste like regular garbage is less costly than disposing of it as radioactive material.
Finally, one should consider earthquakes or other natural disasters as somewhat of a problem. Are nuclear power plants and nuclear waste sites equipped to handle "the Big One"? Should residents near nuclear plants fear not only having their homes damaged by a quake, but also blasted by a significant dose of radiation? If Americans were aware how many of these facilities are on fault lines, they might feel differently about nuclear power.
In conclusion, nukes are no dream. Even with all of these negative attributes, funding for the construction of new nuclear power plants and nuclear waste facilities continue. There are presently over 100 nuclear power plants and more that 30 permanent nuclear waste sites.6 This does not include the new nuclear power plants and nuclear waste sites that are being proposed. We as Americans must make a stand on nuclear power. Perhaps we should erect a large nuclear waste facility in George W. Bush's backyard and see how he likes it. Or, maybe we could classify him as radioactive material and shuttle him to mars!
2 Mark Hertsgaard, "Three Mile Island," The Nation. March 18,2004.
3 Allen Lutins, "U.S. Nuclear Reactors," June 2003.
4 "Managing nuclear waste: Options considered," Fact Sheet. .
5 "Bush EPA Seeks Weaker Rules for Radioactive Waste," BushGreenwatch. March 12, 2004.
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