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Some Important Facts About Nuclear Power ...


Illinois has become "Nuclear America":

  • Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any other state in the nation. Commonwealth Edison owns 13 nuclear reactors, 10 of which are in operation; one was down 20 years prematurely because of excess radioactive contamination. Illinois Power Company owns one reactor. One-hundred-eight reactors operate nationwide.
  • In a 1996 study done by Public Citizen covering 11 safety- and performance-related categories, Illinois' reactors placed in the bottom third in the country in 44% of the rankings. In January, 1997, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put ComEd's Dresden-2 & 3, Zion-1 & 2, and LaSalle-2 & 3 reactors -- 6 of the 12 it operates -- on its "close watch list" for poor safety and performance.
  • Each year Illinois' 13 nuclear power plants produce on the average tens of thousands of cubic feet of "low-level" (NOT low-hazard) radioactive waste (LLRW), representing about 90% of the total volume and 99+% of the radioac- tivity of all LLRW produced in Illinois from all sources. Each reactor also produces about 30 to 50 tons of "high-level" radioactive wastes (HLRW) each year.

    Nuclear Power is a Health, Safety, and Environmental Threat:

  • In testimony before Congress on April 17, 1985, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified that the crude probability of a severe nuclear accident in this country over the next 20 years involving large releases of radioactive materials was roughly 45% (nearly 50-50)!
  • In February, 1997, a reactor operator error at ComEd's Zion nuclear reactor prompted the Regional head of the NRC to state, "It doesn't get any worse than this." In March, in a test that NRC said "requires thinking," 25 of 31 reactor operators at ComEd's La Salle reactors flunked a test of their ability to handle "abnormal" reactor problems.
  • As of April, 1997, Commonwealth Edison has been fined $6.2 million for 85 safety-related incidents at its nuclear power plants. Illinois Power has been fined $502,000 for seven major violations at its single nuclear reactor.
  • According to a 1982 study done by Sandia National Laboratories, a severe (but not necessarily "worst-case") nuclear power accident in Illinois would result in deaths in the tens-of-thousands, casualties and latent cancers in the hundreds-of-thousands, and property loss in the tens-to hundreds-of-billions of dollars.
  • Using calculations from 3 Western European governments, the Worldwatch Institute has calculated that the world may experience three more Chernobyl-sized nuclear power accidents before the year 2000.

    Nuclear Power is Uneconomical:

  • Since its beginning, nuclear power has cost this country over $492,000,000,000 -- nearly twice the cost of the Viet Nam War and the Apollo Moon Missions combined. In return for this investment, we have an energy source that, until the mid-1980's, gave us less energy in this country than did the burning of firewood! In the U.S., nuclear power contributes only 20-22% of our electricity, and only 8-10% of our total energy consumption. In Illinois these percentages are much greater due to Commonwealth Edison's over-reliance on nuclear power.
  • Since 1950, nuclear power has received over $97,000,000,000 in direct and indirect subsidies from the federal government, such as deferred taxes, artificially low limits on liability in case of nuclear accidents, and fuel fabrication write-offs. No other industry has enjoyed such privilege.
  • According to a recent study conducted by the Citizens Utility Board, Commonwealth Edison's customers now pay the highest electric bills in the Midwest, due primarily to the over-reliance on nuclear power plants.
  • Many costs for nuclear power have been deliberately underestimated by government and industry such as the costs for the permanent disposal of nuclear wastes, the "decommissioning" (shutting-down and cleaning-up) of retired nuclear power plants, and nuclear accident consequences. In January, 1994, Commonwealth Edison acknowledged that it had to nearly double its estimate for reactor decommissioning -- from $2.3 billion to as much as $4.1 billion!

    Nuclear Power is not Necessary:

    Nuclear power contributes only 20-22% of our electricity; yet studies have shown that in the U.S. we waste or inefficiently use between 25% - 44% of all electricity generated! Three separate studies done by government and private firms since 1982 have shown that the U.S. has the potential to conserve the electrical equivalent of between 145 to 210 nuclear power plants! Only 108 are currently in operation. The nuclear industry claims that nuclear-generated electricity costs 11õ/kilowatt-hour (kwh); electricity from the newest nuclear plants costs 15-25õ/kwh. It takes from 7 to 12 years to build a nuclear power plant. Yet, conservation and efficiency programs cost between 0.5-4.0õ/kwh, and can be implemented in between 6 months to 2 years. A healthier, more common-sense attitude of using less energy, combined with state-of-the-art electrically efficient products (appliances, light-bulbs, motors) could make nuclear power totally irrelevant in our energy future. A 1990 report done by the internationally respected Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), indicated that, "Use of energy-saving technologies would result in a saving [by the year 2000]...of 24 to 44% of electric consumption." Using less energy does not mean "hardship;" it represents "wisdom." The Japanese, Germans, and Swedes enjoy the same standard of living as we do in the United States -- yet use 40% to 60% less energy than we use!

    Nuclear Power Cannot Reduce Imports of Foreign Oil:

  • Improving the fleet mileage of U.S. cars from the present 26 miles per gallon will have a far greater and immediate effect on oil imports than can nuclear power.
  • Ads promoting nuclear power claim that it will help reduce our dependency on foreign oil imports. This is not true. Only 8% of our electricity comes from oil -- both domestic and foreign. Of this, half is used in "peak-load" (quick start-up) oil fired plants used on the hottest days of the year and in emergencies. Nuclear plants take too long to start up, and cannot be used as "peak-load" plants.
  • Ironically, the first year these pro-nuclear ads ran, over 40% of the uranium fuel used in U.S. reactors had come from foreign sources! So much for reducing our energy dependence on foreign imports.

    Nuclear Power Cannot Appreciably Help Reduce Global Warming:

    Our planet seems to be warming up as a result of gases in our atmosphere which trap heat. This "Greenhouse Effect" may come from humankind's increased burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas, wood), which release a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2), and from other industrial sources which produce other "greenhouse" gases. C02 represents half of the amount of gases that produce the Greenhouse Effect. Global warming could have devastating effects: changes in climate and growing seasons; shifts in growing regions; spread of deserts; raising of ocean levels. These effects are the environmental equivalent of nuclear world war!

    Unlike coal and oil plants, nuclear power plants do not produce CO2. However, nuclear power plants cannot appreciably help in the fight against Global Warming for a number of reasons:

    1. Prohibitive Cost: Each nuclear power plant costs between $3 to $5 billion just to construct! The U.S. would need over 400 additional nuclear reactors to replace its coal plants. This construction alone would cost roughly $1.2 to $2.0 trillion dollars! Worldwide, 8,000 nuclear plants would be needed to replace coal plants to meet energy needs for the next 30 years (there are only 430+ plants in operation worldwide now). These plants would cost the world approximately $24 trillion just to construct! However, one would have to add the following costs to these calculations to get a truer picture of the situation: increased costs for nuclear waste disposal and plant decommissioning; increased costs for scarcer nuclear fuels; increased costs to safeguard nuclear facilities and materials from sabotage, terrorism, and diversion; increased likelihood of major, multi-billion dollar accidents and their disrupting economic effects.
    2. Too Slow to Make an Effect: Most experts agree that major action must take place in the next 5 - 10 years to be able to lessen the predicted Global Warming effects. Yet, to build this many plants -- even if we had the resources -- would take decades. Calculations have shown that even if the world built the 8,000 plants mentioned above, world CO2 levels would still increase 65% over the next 30 years.
    3. Coal Energy Only One Contributor: Only 7% of world C02 comes from U.S. coal, oil, and gas plants; and worldwide, CO2 represents only half of the problem. Nuclear power plants, therefore do little to reduce world C02 levels, and only at a tremendous cost; nuclear power does nothing to reduce the other greenhouse gases such as methane, chlorofluorocarbons, halons, etc. Nuclear power only serves to drain needed money and resources away from the solutions for the other, non-CO2 half of the problem.
    4. Better, Quicker Means Exist: Compared to nuclear power, for every dollar spent on conservation and efficiency techniques, seven times the amount of CO2 is removed from the atmosphere. These techniques are more quickly implemented, and at lower costs (see above). Other important steps that must be taken include building far more fuel efficient cars; greater use of public transportation and bicycles; decreased energy consumption; planting of trees; halting rainforest destruction and ocean pollution (both of which help absorb CO2); halting the spread of deserts through land reform and management in the Third World; and population control.

    revised 4/97

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    Last Revised August 31, 2004