Nuclear power bad on so many levels

David Kyler
Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
Saint Simons Island, Georgia
Sunday, November 02, 2008

After 60 years and many billions of dollars in government subsidies, nuclear power should finally have to prove itself on its own merits - which evidently it cannot do in a free market.

Not only are taxpayers and citizens shouldering an unfair burden of the costs of nuclear power, but, even with these subsidies, as consumers we will be forced to cover the rising costs of nuclear plant construction.

These costs have consistently been well above even the high price tag quoted at the start of the project. Overruns of 50 percent or more will be paid by energy consumers, as utility rates are raised ever higher to protect guaranteed profits for investor.

The rules for rate increases used by the Georgia Public Service Commission provide a safe incentive for those who invest in energy facilities. Commitments made by allowing such unwise investments will lock consumers into paying rising energy costs that are unjustified and truly unnecessary.

Added to these unfair economic burdens on American taxpayers and consumers are the significant risks of moving and storing nuclear materials, made even more threatening by the prospects of terrorism.

Following six decades of attempting to find a "safe" and dependable way of storing radioactive waste from nuclear plants, experts still have no solution. These materials will remain a major public health threat for thousands of years. The more such materials we use, transport and store, the greater that threat becomes.

Two nuclear plants are located in coastal Georgia's watersheds: Plant Hatch in Baxley, along the Altamaha River, and Plant Vogtle near Augusta, on the Savannah River. Not only are their radioactive operations a continuing risk, but these plants consume vast quantities of water. At a time when Georgia is in escalating disputes over water supply, this must be a critical consideration in making energy choices.

At Vogtle, a proposed doubling of the number of reactors in use at the site would mean an additional 65 million gallons a day taken from the Savannah River, two-thirds of which would be lost to vapor in the cooling process. This withdrawal jeopardizes a river already suffering from impairments, thereby compounding problems of growing water demands in both South Carolina and Georgia.

At Plant Hatch, radioactive waste is stored outside in canisters, right along the Altamaha River. This was done as a temporary measure, but after many years it remains a continuing threat across an enormous downstream hazard area. As a potential terrorist target, it adds still further risk to tens of thousands of Georgians.

Due to water demands for cooling, extravagant federal subsidies for new nuclear plants would worsen problems in our rivers and intensify disputes over water supply. Fish habitat and recreational amenities would also suffer, while funds taken from taxpayers and consumers paid for this wasteful energy choice.

Clearly, such subsidies for the nuclear industry are unwise, unfair and unjustified. Instead of sinking billions more tax dollars into this hazardous, extremely expensive source of energy, we should be converting to clean, proven technologies that are far more practical. According to the Georgia State Wind Map validated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there is over 10,000 megawatts of wind potential off Georgia's coast. That's the equivalent output of 10 large power plants - far more power than that to be produced by new coal and nuclear plants now proposed in the state.

Not only is wind energy free, but we could begin producing needed power in half the time needed to build nuclear or coal plants. Infrastructure costs for offshore towers, generators and distribution lines would be readily justified by decades of reliable service and billions of pollution-free megawatts.

Ultimately, the costs of wind power would be far lower than those of conventional sources that face rising fuel prices and diminishing supplies. Recent analysis by Amory B. Lovins ("The Nuclear Illusion") found that, including expenses for facilities, infrastructure and operations, power produced from wind costs half as much as nuclear. Notably, the enormous costs of storing radioactive waste and decommissioning old plants were not even included in this comparison.

Distractions in energy policy - such as offshore drilling, coal or nuclear power plants - will only delay the inevitable and logical transition to renewable sources. The longer this delay, the more consumers will pay for energy.

Attempts by special interests to marginalize wind, solar and tidal power are directly contradicted by the facts. In countries such as Finland, Iceland, Germany and France, investments in wind and geo-thermal power over the past decades have brought ample rewards - economic, environmental and political.

American energy independence and consumer goals are only attainable by making serious commitments to renewable power sources and energy-efficiency improvements. Experts estimate that efficiency upgrades could save Georgians 30 percent or more in their energy use.

Legislators must give high priority to adopting incentives that reward rapid conversion to cleaner, more efficient and lower-cost energy sources. If our taxes continue to be used to subsidize costly and polluting technology, conversion to renewables will be severely slowed, benefiting power companies, not consumers.
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