Ellen Anderson and Roopali Phadke: Don't be fooled by nuclear power PR

  • Article by: ELLEN ANDERSON and ROOPALI PHADKE
  • Updated: April 20, 2009 - 8:08 PM

The problems remain, and the solutions are distant. Meanwhile, clean energy can meet our needs.

The Minnesota Senate recently approved an amendment to overturn the state's moratorium on new nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, the nuclear industry has launched a savvy national campaign to convince citizens that conventional nuclear power is a silver-bullet solution to our energy and climate crisis.

Even the best PR campaign can't change the reality that nuclear power remains as uneconomical and environmentally unsafe as it was 40 years ago. Conventional nuclear technology is expensive, creates few new jobs and poses long-term environmental hazards. It is a costly distraction from real energy solutions.

The current moratorium was put into place in 1994 because there was no permanent national solution to the problem of how to solve nuclear waste. That problem persists today. President Obama recently removed funding from a controversial project to store nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Without a long-term waste solution, we will continue to store unsecured radioactive waste at Prairie Island. This is already an unacceptable burden to pass on to future generations.

Many climate scientists and concerned citizens feel that so-called "fourth generation" reactors that use spent fuel will address the waste problem. Yet, as NASA's top climate scientist James Hansen recently reported, even with the highest levels of priority funding, fourth-generation reactors will not be ready for deployment for 10 to 15 years. We need global-warming solutions much sooner. The nuclear moratorium protects us against the development of new power plants based on outdated and risky technology.

In the midst of an international economic crisis, we should also be wary of the economic costs of nuclear power. New nuclear power is only cost-effective with massive taxpayer subsidies. Current federal law caps the liability claims that can arise from nuclear accidents and passes that liability on to taxpayers. We have already shelled out billions of dollars to insure commercial nuclear reactors; we shouldn't be forced to shell out billions more.

A March 2009 report commissioned by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council found that America can meet rising energy demands and address global warming with current, non-nuclear technologies. The study reported that we can cut carbon dioxide emissions 24 percent by 2020 and 85 percent by 2050, while allowing the phaseout of coal and nuclear plants according to their scheduled decommission dates. Even better, the analysis shows that, when compared with coal and nuclear power, clean-energy sources can power America and solve the climate crisis at half the cost and with twice the job creation.

Fortunately, Minnesota has more than enough renewable-energy sources to power our future. Responsible investments in cutting-edge wind, solar and biomass technologies have the potential to create hundreds of high-wage jobs across the state.

There is no reason to lift the ban on new nuclear energy in our state when we have cheaper, safer alternatives that can address climate change and revitalize our economy.

Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Roopali Phadke is an assistant professor of environmental policy at Macalester College.

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