Nuclear power plant a bad idea
Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 12:39 pm

To the Editor:

Last week, Massena Supervisor Joseph Gray and Mayor James Hidy asked citizens if the community should host a nuclear power plant. We have sent them a letter asking them to consider the following six points: waste, water, weapons, emissions, economic costs, and health and well-being.

First, radioactive waste requires storage for 10 half-lives, the time it takes for a radioactive element to break down naturally to 1/10th its original mass. The half-life of Plutonium-239 is 24,000 years. The half-life of Uranium-235 is 703,800 years. High-level waste (spent fuel rods) from nuclear power plants must be stored in sealed isolation for at least hundreds of thousands of years. Low-level nuclear waste, including contaminated equipment, parts, sludge and entire nuclear power plants when they are dismantled, also contains lethal radioactive elements such as Plutonium-239 and Strontium-90 and must be kept isolated for hundreds if not thousands of years as well. How will the Town and Village of Massena guarantee responsible safekeeping of nuclear waste for even 100 let alone 10,000 or more years?

Second, nuclear reactors require vast amounts of water to cool their nuclear cores. Reactors with cooling towers use 20,000 gallons of water per minute. Reactors with “once-through” cooling systems take up to 500,000 gallons per minute. A Massena reactor would presumably draw cooling water from the St. Lawrence River, putting it back five to ten degrees warmer than when it went in. This could have significant impacts on the ecology and fisheries of our river at a time when the County’s Chamber of Commerce is seeking to expand fishing tourism.

Third, it takes as little as six pounds of enriched nuclear material to make a nuclear weapon. Low-level waste attached to a conventional bomb turns it into a “dirty bomb” that spread radiation upon detonation. Nuclear power plants themselves can be thought of as weapons. Shortly after 9/11, nuclear reactor operators said that none of the 443 reactors operating worldwide could withstand a deliberate crash by a large jet with a full tank of fuel. A nuclear power plant near the Robert Moses Dam would be an ideal target, disabling both and killing many more than two birds with one stone.

Fourth, nuclear power is often touted as a low- or no-greenhouse gas emission source of power. This is incorrect when the full life cycle emissions are compared. When mining; milling; conversion; enrichment; fuel fabrication; reactor construction, operation, and decommissioning; fuel processing and conditioning; and storage are considered, greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power are greater than from proven renewable energy sources. Nuclear power emits over six times more greenhouse gas emissions than wind and over five times the emissions of hydropower and solar. A solar panel or wind turbine factory is a much more attractive option for Massena and the planet.

Fifth nuclear power should not be seen as an efficient jobs generator. Economic costs outweigh the benefits. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, based on current estimated costs for new reactors, each nuclear job would require an investment of at least $1.5 million. Furthermore, nuclear power is not economically viable on its own. Billions of dollars in federal subsidies are required. Private firms are refusing to invest in nuclear power without massive taxpayer subsidies because it is too costly and too risky. Supervisor Gray said in an interview on the radio that Massena has the three components needed for a nuclear power plant: land, water and transmission lines. He forgot a big one: money – billions of dollars. Where will the money come from? Further, even with taxpayer dollars, it is likely that a new generation of nuclear power plants would raise, rather than lower electricity costs because of cost overruns, construction delays, the need to build dismantling and disposal into the price, and other factors.

Sixth, while full reactor meltdowns are relatively rare, low-level radiation discharges have measured impacts on the health of people, plants, animals, and environment. Cancer rates, particularly thyroid cancer, within a 100-mile radius of nuclear power plants are three times the national average. Radioactive tritium releases into the groundwater have occurred at over half the reactor sites in the U.S. St. Lawrence County is already known for its elevated incidence of cancer. Do we really want to increase our risks further? The health and well-being of North Country residents could be jeopardized by this technology.

For these six reasons listed above – waste, water, weapons, emissions, economic costs, and health and well-being – no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in over 30 years. Supervisor Gray and Mayor Hidy said a nuclear plant would create jobs and generate reasonably priced electricity. In fact, investment in construction of a new nuclear power plant would result in fewer jobs and higher costs than investment in energy alternatives such as energy efficiency, wind, solar and biomass. We believe that investment in nuclear power would retard, rather than advance, economic development in St. Lawrence County.

We hope that Supervisor Gray and Mayor Hidy will take into account the evidence presented here and decide to pursue less harmful and more beneficial sustainable economic development options.

Jon Rosales, PhD

environmental studies,

St. Lawrence University,

and Ann Heidenreich,

energy consultant, Pyrites