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Troubling but Necessary? Nukes to Combat Global Warming? - nhpeacenik
Troubling but Necessary? Nukes to Combat Global Warming?
I have demonstrated against the building and permitting of nuclear power plants, and there are songs from the anti-nuclear movement that are among the most dear to me. I wish with all my heart that I could continue to stand in opposition to the proliferation of this outrageously-expensive, poison-producing source of energy, because it remains just as objectionable as ever, but I have to admit that there are increasingly clear arguments that the damage done by nuclear power will be greatly outweighed by  the damage to the planet from increasing CO2 emissions.

Recent articles by a California Quaker, Karen Street,  who has dedicated years to study of this issue are close to convincing me that my objections to the building of new nuclear power plants are irrational and unsustainable. I want to share these articles with you and let you make up your own mind. Her first article, published las Fall, can be read here: www.quaker.org/fep/FJ-Friends-Path-to-Nuclear-Power.html.
When I read that article and the other articles in that issue of Friends Journal on the same topic, I did as I was accustomed to: I agreed with the articles that said we can get out of this crisis by conserving and having a crash program of solar and wind development, and discounted her article as just more nuclear industry propaganda coming through a stooge who happened to be a Quaker and could couch their essentially mercenary aims in humanitarian terms. In the interim I have seen the question addressed in other forums, including New Internationalist magazine and the Guardian's Environment section, and have realized how fast "climate change" is happening and how urgent it is to reduce CO2 emissions. 

Then this week here she comes again in true Batter My Heart fashion with her latest article www.friendsjournal.org/nuclear-energy-debate-among-friends-another-r. This time I have to admit that scientists who have no mercenary reason to take this stand have banded together to assert the the US needs to build new nuclear plants to combat global warming and that the Yucca Flats disposal site in Nevada has overcome all objections to its use for permanent storage of nuclear waste (change.gov/open_government/entry/a_sustainable_energy_future_the_essential_role_of_nuclear_energy/), and that the number of scientists not subscribing to that consensus is about as small as the number of scientists who deny the reality of global warming (though these are emphatically not the same scientists). While I love to hear Helen Caldecott speak, and I admire her work on nuclear disarmament, it is mainly my heart that leads me to take her word against the majority of nuclear scientists. I am a big fan of Amory Lovins and I wish we could ramp up solar/wind development to the point where no nuclear energy is necessary to replace coal, oill and natural gas, I fear that both the technological and political momentum to do so is lacking.

The objections that hold the most weight with me are waste disposal and environmental justice.

By some measures, uranium mining is more hazardous than coal mining, and the effects of this mining fall most heavily on Native Americans and other non-white minorities. The plans for renewed uranium mining in the Four Corners area are still an active issue among the Navaho who have sustained the most injuries to their people, livelihoods and lands  ( e.g.www.sric.org/uranium/), and adequate studies and mitigations of the earlier impacts have still not been done. Navaho tribal law now says: "No person shall engage in uranium mining and processing on any sites within Navajo Indian Country." The law is based on the Fundamental Laws of the Diné, which are already codified in Navajo statutes. The act finds that based on those fundamental laws, "certain substances in the Earth (doo nal yee dah) that are harmful to the people should not be disturbed, and that the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore, that its extraction should be avoided as traditional practice and prohibited by Navajo law." If new plants are to be built, uranium mining must be made unequivocally safe, especially for groups that have been victimized by past abuses.

I would still stand by my opposition to the proposed Washington NH site for nuclear burial, as it is obviously too waterlogged and populated an environment. Yucca Flats, NV faces some long-shot seismic dangers, and if Las Vegas keeps expanding toward it, it could endanger a large number of lives in the event of a disaster, but if a descision is made to use it, I am sure that the cavalier attitude that exposed troops to above-ground nuclear tests in the 1950s would not prevail in the 2010s, and further expansion of Las Vegas in that direction would be forbidden. There are risks, and over several hundred thousand years these risks become statistically serious, but it is the considered opinion of the experts that it would be a safe storage place for centuries. On the other hand, thousands of people die from coal-mining-related accidents each year, and unless virtually all cancers are attributed to radiation from nuclear plants (which is not borne up by the facts), deaths from nuclear energy production annually rarely rise above one digit.

Still, it feels wrong to me to back a technology that since my birth has seemed to be the devil made manifest. I rmember my mom worrying about strontium-90 when I was a kid. I remember the terrors of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. I have had nightmares about thermonuclear destruction, and I can't emotionally separate them from the same process in a power plant, even though I can separate them intellectually. Every time I walk past the research reactor here at U Mass. Lowell, I feel an involuntary shiver of fear. And I know there will never be a movement FOR nuclear power that has the inspiring qualities and generates the nourishing songs that the anti-nuclear movement did. Should I reluctantly sign on to this new fact-based opinion and champion it? Should I "stand aside", as Quakers say, and let the plan move forward without my active consent. Will somebody come by with a realistic plan for rapid solar conversion?

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