The world’s most dangerous energy source may be heading into the nuclear waste dump of history sometime in the next half century. It can’t happen soon enough for me.
Three recent news stories from three different countries – Japan, Germany and the United States – tell me we have reached peak nuclear energy use, and most of the world’s nuclear power plants will be shut down in the next 10 to 50 years. Let’s hope Arizona and the rest of the country get the message instead of listening to people who want to risk our safety and squander our resources by betting on nuclear power’s fading 20th century technology.
The first story about the imminent demise of nuclear energy is the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, crippling the Fukushima nuclear power plant. When that plant was jolted by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and pounded by 50-foot waves, it dealt a near-death blow to the nuclear industry’s claim it can build plants to withstand the worst natural and manmade disasters that come their way.
We were lied to in the days immediately following the disaster. None of the reactor cores melted down, we were told. Then, day by day, more of the story began to leak out. One reactor may have melted down. Then two. Then three.
Last week we learned the damage to the three reactors may be far worse than core meltdowns, the nightmare scenario where the fuel rods melt into a radioactive pool in the bottom of their containment vessels. According to a new official report from Japan, the reactors may have suffered a “melt-through,” where the fuel melts through the containment vessels themselves. Are there enough layers of protection to stop the concentrated nuclear fuel from finding its way into the earth and groundwater? No one knows for sure.
We also learned the radiation emitted in the hours after the tsunami was twice what we were told. And, for all the catastrophes at the plant – the reactor melt-throughs and radioactive contamination of the environment – the most immediate problem the nuclear engineers face is what to do with 100,000 tons of contaminated water sloshing around in the plant.
After the disaster and the lies that followed, how can anyone believe industry PR people who claim U.S. nuclear plants – like the huge Palo Verde facility outside Phoenix – are safe from a Fukushima-level catastrophe?
Germany isn’t buying the nuclear industry’s false assurances. That’s the second of three stories indicating nuclear power is heading on a downhill trajectory. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to shut down all the country’s nuclear plants by 2022. Germany gets the same amount of its electricity from nuclear power as we do – about 20 percent – but unlike us, it can read the writing on the wall and plans to replace the nuclear-generated electricity with a combination of renewable energy and conservation in 11 years.
And our own General Electric has read the same writing on the same wall. In the third and final story, G.E. is investing heavily in solar energy companies and predicts solar power will be cheaper than electricity from nuclear reactors and fossil fuel plants in three to five years.
G.E. was once a huge player in nuclear energy. It actually created the design for the crippled Fukushima plant and similar plants operating all over the U.S. Now, G.E. is investing in an innovative power station in Turkey that combines solar and wind energy with a rapid-starting natural gas plant. The renewables are the primary energy producers. The gas plant will kick in when needed – at nights, on cloudy days or when the wind dies down.
It’s time we begin the laborious process of decommissioning our dangerous, costly and outdated nuclear power plants and recognize the future is in clean, renewable energy. We can either use our considerable resources and scientific ingenuity to take a leadership role, or we can let the rest of the world move forward without us.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.