Albert Bates articulates why nuclear energy is a bad solution for our energy needs.
Economists would point to the serious lack of financial justification for nuclear energy, with subsidies today running to $42 per barrel oil equivalent, and huge, largely externalized costs to be borne essentially forever. Physicists point to the brittle engineering and human fallibility of operators. Security experts know that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are not separable, and that every reactor, every shipment, every waste repository, is a terrorist target.
In the natural environment, our species has always been enveloped in radiation: from our sun and moon; from distant stars and cosmic winds; and from elements distributed in the soil, rocks, and oceans of the Earth. All human populations pass through life exposed to some part of this radioactive environment. It is now estimated that up to half of all new cancers are caused by this “background” radiation, which had previously been thought harmless, or even beneficial. The small dose that we receive from natural background radiation, typically in combination with free radicals of oxygen, is a significant factor in the normal aging process, the process of the bodies of living organisms whereby abnormal cells gradually replace normal cells until a vital function is sufficiently impaired to result in death.
Radioactive bombardment endows biological molecules with such unstable properties that they can produce all kinds of energetic chemical reactions that would never have been possible before the exposure, multiplying the genetic damage in many invisible and enduring ways.
When a mutated gene is responsible for regulating normal cell growth, an uncontrolled proliferation of damaged cells, or cancer, can develop. When mutation occurs in the procreative cells or in the developing embryo, birth defects can result. When mutation occurs in the blood-forming tissue, impairment of the immune response system can result, and this can increase susceptibility to an entire spectrum of human disease as well as lowering resistance to a host of environmental insults.
Early studies of genetic mutation demonstrated that only one percent of the latent damage of exposure to radiation may appear in each generation. We will have to wait 100 generations of human population to experience the full genetic effects of the late 20th century’s nuclear dalliance, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the atmospheric tests, Chelyabinsk, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and whatever comes next. In the past 50 years our species has doubled the planet’s natural background radiation.