That world leaders are recognising climate change and have responded with a move towards renewable energy sources should be viewed as positive.
A reduction in carbon emissions, to meet the Paris agreement’s goals, by relying on the nuclear industry, is an abysmal trade-off, considering its disastrous environmental record.
Radioactive waste is a byproduct of the nuclear industry. As you correctly indicate, (Wade Allison, Irish Examiner, June 25) nuclear processes are part of nature, but these natural processes resist being hurried.
Waste takes years to decay. Plutonium has a half-life of about 24,000 years. Where does this not-so-natural waste go?
Low-level waste from hospitals is incinerated before land burial. Waste from reactor decommissioning is deposited in geological repositories.
Waste from nuclear reactors is highly radioactive, often hot, and must be stored in a controlled environment.
At the Sellafield site in the UK, where the stockpiling of nuclear waste has been plagued with leaks, spent nuclear fuel is imported and reprocessed (recycled).
Waste arising from this is highly radioactive, must be encased in glass, and be regularly monitored.
Even with best practice management, monitoring this waste will continue for indefinite years and costs will rise as the stockpiles grow.
A common practice in the nuclear industry is the dumping of low-level nuclear waste into the sea. It is claimed by Greenpeace that the spent-fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague, in northern France, dumps “1m litres of liquid radioactive waste per day” into the ocean. The long-term impact of such dumping remains to be seen.
While population displacement to facilitate hydroelectric schemes is unfortunate, relocation because of radioactive fallout is a tragedy.
The Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 scattered 400 times more radioactive material into the Earth’s atmosphere than did the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The Chernobyl exclusion zone, measuring 2,600sq km (1,004sq miles), is one of the most contaminated areas in the world.
It is larger than Co Wexford, where, in the late 1970s, the Irish government abandoned plans to develop a nuclear plant at Carnsore Point, following opposition and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US, in 1979. The latter’s clean-up operation lasted 12 years and cost $1bn. By 2014, the price for decommissioning at Sellafield had reached £70bn.
However, a nuclear waste clean-up is a contradiction in terms. Contaminated material is simply moved to someone else’s backyard.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan, in 2011, is an ongoing disaster. In February, 2017, six years post-nuclear meltdown, it was reported that radiation levels at the plant were at “unimaginable levels”, following the discovery of new fuel leaks.
Professor Allison asserts that “Nuclear is for life”. Yes, it is. As he is so keen to embrace it, would he be happy take home a share of the industry’s waste?
Allison’s argument that we “must move beyond radiation phobia and accept more relaxed, evidence-based nuclear regulations” is a tall order, considering industry revelations, like the falsification of quality assurance data at Sellafield’s Mox Demonstration facility in 1999.
Undeniably, energy security comes at a cost. For nuclear energy, this is a very long-term mortgage, as both fuel and waste stockpiles create their own health-and-security risks.
There is no denying the contribution that radiation has made to medicine, but physicist Marie Curie, who did pioneering work on radioactivity, died from prolonged exposure to it.
Nuclear energy may look clean, but it is not. The spectre of artificial radioactivity from the nuclear industry looms large in our atmosphere.
Ireland has no room for stockpiles of nuclear waste, nor for the mishaps that have plagued the nuclear industry. Why jeopardise a lucrative tourism industry (€5bn a year) or our food-and-drinks industry (€12bn a year) by poisoning our landscape?
It’s not surprising that countries are refusing to invest in new nuclear plants, apart from those kowtowing to lobbyists with vested interests. Contrary to Wade Allison’s report, nuclear power seems unlikely to be popular tomorrow, given the legacy of waste it bestows on future generations.
Aidan J Collins MA