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Nuclear power is far from safe or carbon-free

I became frightened when I read the commentary by Norman Meadow ("Nuclear blows away wind," Feb. 1). I wanted to say so much, but my thoughts were running way beyond the commentary. Just one example: The reactor at Chernobyl still contains enough radioactive material to destroy Europe. The only thing stopping it is a decaying sarcophagus. Mr. Meadow doesn't mention this. Nuclear waste is another example. The very first drop is still around. Reality is, there is nothing that can be done about the waste. No matter where it's stored or how it's stored, we will always have it. The waste can only be stored 100 years at a time at the most because of the continuing corrosive nuclear activity.

Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years — which is essentially forever. For those who are not familiar with a half life, it means one-half of the amount will be gone in 24,000 years, the one half of that in another 24,000 years, etc. Just one speck of plutonium will give you lung cancer, and after that person dies, the speck will still be around looking for another lung. As long as reactors are running, we keep accumulating more waste. I believe worldwide we have over 300 thousand tons of nuclear waste. And please remember just one tiny, tiny speck of plutonium will give you lung cancer. Heck, we already have 300,000 tons too much, right? Mr. Meadows doesn't mention this either.

There's much more to cover. Mr. Meadows writes that "…most opposition to nuclear power results from exaggerated fear of small doses of radiation at reactors or spent fuel storage facilities. This risk, which is small…" I was surprised he used the word, "small," twice so closely together. Does he consider a tiny speck of plutonium small, that speck which causes lung cancer? Government regulations allow nuclear plants to "routinely" and "deliberately" emit hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every year. This is just the normal operation of a nuclear plant and does not consider the numerous undetected leaks, mishaps, lies, and near misses that are chronic.

Secondly, he observes that "…nuclear power is essential for building a carbon-free society." However, nuclear energy has the largest carbon footprint of any energy source other than the fossil fuels. The carbon footprint adds tons of carbon emissions which are necessary in the production of nuclear energy in mining of uranium or thorium, milling (taking the raw ore and converting it to "yellowcake," enrichment and transporting yellowcake to a conversion facility, dissolving it to form UF6, construction of the cylinders used to transport the UF6, formation of uranium fuel pellets, transportation of the uranium fuel pellets, and construction of a nuclear power plant with its massive amounts of concrete and steel which will take several years of using heavy construction equipment to complete. There's also much necessary infrastructure to support the nuclear power plant (roads, transmission lines, canals, etc., and heavy-duty diesel generators are needed to run the cooling system during routine maintenance, refueling, shut downs resulting from increased summertime water temperatures, and power outage emergencies, building radwaste storage containers and transporting the waste to the storage facilities, and construction of waste reprocessing and incineration facilities.

But wait, there's more including future decommissioning, decontamination and demolishing the nuclear plant, accident mitigation and clean-up efforts after nuclear accidents and the construction of a sarcophagus to contain a damaged reactor as well as monitoring, securing, and periodically re-entombing failed nuclear power facilities for all eternity.

Mr. Meadow writes that "By issuing 20-year extensions of operating licenses for many reactors built about 40 years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has acknowledged their safety and durability." Well, I wouldn't feel safe buying a 40-year-old washer and expect it to work for 20 more years, not to mention a 40-year-old nuclear power plant that runs on highly corrosive radioactive material that has be given a 20-year extension. This feels very dangerous.

Regina Minniss, Baltimore

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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