Quantcast
Popular

Legacy of Lies and Cover-Ups Leaves Nuclear Energy Revival Elusive

By Paul Brown

There have been three well-documented major nuclear accidents in the last 60 years, each one accompanied by official lies and cover-ups. There have been other less well-known serious accidents that have been so effectively hushed up that decades later there are only the sketchiest details available.

The legacy of these disasters is a deep distrust of the industry by many voters. In some leading industrial countries this has led to governments being forced to abandon nuclear power altogether, while others face such strong opposition to new stations being built that they have abandoned the idea, although they still keep the old ones operating, at least for now.

This checkered history of the industry matters. It has caused a global split. While many scientists and politicians concerned about climate change believe that nuclear power is vital if governments are to meet their commitments to curb dangerous global warming, just as many do not.

The opposition is based on the belief that the industry has lost all integrity and credibility and that renewables are a cheaper, safer and all-round better bet. This view is reinforced by the inability of the industry to deal with its waste. Renewables can easily be recycled, but nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years, leaving future generations to pay for it.

But it is the three major disasters that are at the root of this fierce debate. They happened over a span of 60 years and all had different causes. But all followed a familiar pattern.

The first was at Windscale in north-west England in 1957, when a plutonium-producing reactor caught fire. The second was Chernobyl on the border of Ukraine and Belarus in 1986: the top blew off one of the reactors and there was a serious fire. The third was at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, when an earthquake and a tsunami caused meltdowns at three reactors.

Official Concealment

All three accidents had startling similarities in the official reaction. In each case the governments involved, the nuclear regulators and plant owners tried to hide the scale of the disaster from the public who were most in danger. In each case this resulted in unnecessary exposure of the population to harmful radiation.

Second, the possible long-term health effects to the people involved were hotly disputed. In each case this took the form, both at the time and ever since, of governments and the industry playing down the health risks.

There is still an argument about whether the Windscale fire caused a leukaemia cluster in children in the neighborhood. After Fukushima, governments and the industry claim, very few or no deaths at all resulted. Expect the argument to continue for decades.

Third has been the underplaying of the enormous cost and intractable nature of trying to clean up the mess. For example, people who are evacuated are told the move is only temporary, when it could last for decades, possibly generations.

Again, the official estimate for "compensation" for the Fukushima accident rose from ¥5.4 trillion (£40bn) to ¥8 trillion (£70bn), a fact only slipped out at the end of November 2016, nearly five years after the accident.

Technically Insurmountable

In each case, even after the Windscale accident 60 years ago, the clean-up of the actual nuclear pile that caught fire has several times started and then been abandoned as too difficult. They are not expected to be completed for decades.

There is no hope of cleaning up Chernobyl or Fukushima this century. A new concrete shell over Chernobyl to replace the existing crumbling structure should be in place by 2017 at a cost of €2.1—but this is designed only as a temporary structure, to last 100 years.

Governments tried hard to cover up what happened. At Windscale, the British government subsequently admitted it had deliberately covered up the seriousness of the accidents to keep its nuclear weapons program on track.

In Chernobyl's case it was the sky-high radiation readings from as far away as Scandinavia and Germany that led the Soviets to admit what had happened. Thirty years later the real health effects of the accident are hotly disputed.

Thousands of children have had their thyroids removed and there have been many birth defects and cancers. Belarus, worst hit by the disaster, is anxious to play down the long-term effects to avoid frightening potential foreign investors in the country.

The nuclear industry has been trying hard to put all this in the past. In response to public concerns it has come up with a whole series of "safer" designs for nuclear power stations. As a result, some countries like Finland and Britain are encouraging the building of a new generation of French, Japanese, Chinese and American designs.

This time, however, it is not just safety that is at issue. For the last 35 years not a single nuclear power station in the west has been built to time or on budget. It undermines the claim that nuclear power will be able to compete with other fuels on price. It has repeatedly been shown that, without government subsidy, nuclear power cannot survive.

The latest evidence for this is the two new power stations being built in Finland and France. Both are nearly 10 years behind schedule and have more than doubled in cost.

The original claims that the price of the electricity the stations would produce would be competitive cannot be true. Wholesale prices must already have more than doubled before a single watt of power has been produced.

Yet, despite this track record, the nuclear industry hopes to keep on growing and claims it is expecting to do so—and many governments continue to pour money into research and development. They do so in the hope that one day nuclear power will provide a safe and economically viable method of producing electricity.

So far, however, there is no sign of the long-predicted nuclear renaissance. The costs of a safe design continue to increase as the industry and governments attempt to live down the legacy of misleading the public for the last 60 years. It seems that if the climate is to be saved from overheating, we shall have to do this without the aid of new nuclear power.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

How Big Is Your Environmental Footprint?

If you want to make a positive change this Earth Day but don't know where to start, one of best things you can do is take an honest look at your environmental footprint. For instance, how much water are you wasting? How much plastic are you throwing out? How much planet-warming carbon are you producing?

Luckily, there are many online calculators that crunch through your consumption habits. While the final tally might be daunting, it's the first step in living more sustainably.

Keep reading... Show less
Shopping at farmers markets can help minimize your waste.

6 Simple Tips to Reduce Waste So Every Day Is Earth Day

Earth Day 2018 is focused on the all-important theme of reducing plastic litter and pollution. Of course, we shouldn't just reduce our plastic footprint, we should try to reduce waste in all shapes, sizes and forms. It's said that the average American generates a staggering 4 pounds of trash every day—but you don't have to be part of that statistic.

Here are six entirely manageable tips and tricks to help you cut waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don't just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Lorraine Chow, reporter

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner's Castile soap

It's Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn't recommend that).

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Will Rose / Greenpeace

7 Things You Can Do to Create a Plastic-Free Future

By Jen Fela

We're celebrating a huge moment in the global movement for a plastic-free future: More than one million people around the world have called on big corporations to do their part to end single-use plastics.

Now we're taking the next big step. We're setting an ambitious new goal: A Million Acts of Blue.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

5 Environmental Victories to Inspire You This Earth Day

Planet Earth is at a crisis point. Researchers say we have to begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 if we want to meet the temperature goals outlined in the Paris agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change.

The work to be done can seem overwhelming. A survey published this week found that only 6 percent of Americans think we will succeed in reducing global warming.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A fin whale surfacing in Greenland. Aqqa Rosing-Asvid / CC BY 2.0

Iceland to Resume Killing Endangered Fin Whales

By Kitty Block

Iceland seems to be the most confused of nations when it comes to whales. On the one hand it attracts international tourists from all over the world to go out and see whales as part of their encounters with Iceland's many natural wonders. On the other hand it kills whales for profit, with some portion of the kill even being fed to some of the same tourists in restaurants and cafes.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
A.millepora in the Great Barrier Reef. Petra Lundgren, Juan C Vera, Lesa Peplow, Stephanie Manel and Madeleine JH van Oppen

Hope for Great Barrier Reef? New Study Shows Genetic Diversity of Coral Could Extend Our Chance to Save It

A study published Wednesday had some frightening news for the Great Barrier Reef—the iconic marine ecosystem is at "unprecedented" risk of collapse due to climate change after a 2016 heat wave led to the largest mass coral bleaching event in the reef's history.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Lyft

Lyft Announces Carbon Neutrality Drive

Lyft will make all of its rides carbon neutral starting immediately by investing millions of dollars in projects that offset its emissions, the company announced Thursday.

The ridesharing service, which is part of the We Are Still coalition, provides more than 10 million rides worldwide each week. "We feel immense responsibility for the profound impact that Lyft will have on our planet," founders John Zimmer and Logan Green wrote in a Medium post.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!