Nuclear power's sick legacy.

Author:Caldicott, Helen
Position:Legal Humanities

April 17, 2006, Australia--The Howard Government, is embarked on another mendacious, ill-advised, and downright dangerous enterprise: transforming Australia into a nuclear-powered, uranium-exporting nation, deploying as a rhetorical fig leaf the spurious message that nuclear power is emissions-free, green, and safe and will save Australia-and indeed the world-from the effects of global warming. Let's pull away that tattered fig leaf and look at the facts.

The global warming carbon dioxide (CO2) gas is released at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle-from uranium mining and milling, from uranium enrichment, from construction of huge concrete reactors, and from the transport and long-term storage of intensely radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants generate only one-third as much CO2 as a similar-sized gas-fired plant. But because the supply of highly concentrated uranium ore, which is relatively easy to mine and enrich, is limited, the energy eventually required to mine and enrich uranium will greatly increase. If today's global electricity production was converted to nuclear power, there would only be three years' supply of accessible uranium to fuel the reactors. Uranium is therefore a finite commodity.

CO2 is not the only global warming gas emitted by nuclear power. The Pacudah enrichment plant in Kentucky, which processes uranium from many countries, including Australia, annually leaks 93 per cent of the CFC-114 gas released by the US. Banned under the Montreal protocol, CFC is a prodigious destroyer of the ozone layer and it also is a potent global warming agent.

Furthermore, nuclear reactors routinely emit large amounts of radioactive materials, including the fat-soluble noble gases xenon, krypton and argon. Deemed "inert" by the nuclear industry, they are readily inhaled by populations near reactors and absorbed into the bloodstream where they concentrate in the fat pads of the abdomen and upper thighs, exposing ovaries and testicles to mutagenic gamma radiation (like X-rays).

Tritium, radioactive hydrogen, is also regularly discharged from reactors. Combining with oxygen, it forms tritiated water, which passes readily through skin, lungs and gut. Contrary to industry propaganda, tritium is a dangerous carcinogenic element producing cancers, congenital malformations and genetic deformities in low doses in animals, and by extrapolation in humans.

In the age of terrorism, nuclear reactors are inviting targets. It is relatively easy to...

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