No Nukes: Obama and McCain Weigh in on Nuclear Energy


The incongruous convergence of our fiscal meltdown, an energy crisis and the alarming velocity of climate change is challenging and scary. It requires immediate action. But some options come with too high a cost. Nuclear energy is one of them. In last night's debate, John McCain repeated verbatim comments he's made at a town hall meeting in Louisiana and in Tennessee: "My friends, the United States Navy has sailed ships around the world for more than 50 years with nuclear power plants on them and we've never had a single accident."

The first time he said this, he was correct. But in August 2008, the U.S. Navy admitted that a small amount of radiation might have leaked from the nuclear-powered USS Houston as it traveled around the Pacific.

Friends don't lie.

Barack Obama has said a number of things. He keeps nuclear energy on the table but calls it suboptimal. Just as no energy source is perfect, nor is any politician.

Safe and clean nuclear energy is like clean coal - a noble goal that is nowhere close to being actualized.

We have an urgent need to diversify our energy options & move towards low-carbon solutions. And, yes, even some environmentalists feel like we have no other choice.
But we do have other choices.
Nuclear power is the problem, not the solution.

Nuclear power uses fossil fuel during every stage of its life - from mining, milling and enriching uranium, to building the nuclear reactor and cooling towers - from robotic decommissioning of the intensely radioactive reactor at the end of its 20 to 40-year operating lifetime to the transportation and long-term storage of massive quantities of the radioactive waste. . . that never dies.

Nuclear isn't safe.
The low-level radioactive waste nuclear plants generate is stored in drums & placed inside storage facilities. Sounds like a prime target, no? And the 50 thousand metric tons of spent nuclear fuel the US has created doesn't have a permanent storage facility. Our nuclear waste isn't only timeless - it's nomadic.

Nuclear isn't cheap.
We have some infrastructure in place, but to maintain what we have now - a 30% level of energy sources that don't emit carbon - we'd have to increase wind and solar and build more than 40 nuclear plants by 2020. The cost of a nuclear disaster? Priceless.

Why should we build new plants when we can't figure out what the old ones actually cost us?

Why should we invest our limited human and financial resources in a technology rife with uncertainties? We deserver surer bets. Our kids deserve a safer future.

No nukes.

This post was written by Simran Sethi. Thanks to the University of Kansas School of Journalism, to Merete Mueller for research assistance and to Helmen for the image.