Sierra Club Fact Sheet
Why Nuclear Power Doesn't Make Sense
As the disasters at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have shown, nuclear power can cause catastrophic damage to land, human health, and our food supply. We should pursue our cleanest, quickest, safest, and cheapest energy options first: Nuclear power comes out last in every one of those categories.
In the long-term, nuclear power is also unnecessary: With an intensive effort to exploit our clean energy resources, we can power our society, create good jobs, and keep our environment healthy with renewable energy such as solar and wind. With the right policies and investments, we can achieve 100 percent renewable energy in our lifetimes -- without nuclear power.
It's Prohibitively Expensive
- Construction of nuclear reactors is very complex and can take up to seven years and up to $10 billion in capital costs.
- Long construction timeframes and large capital costs mean that the payback on the initial investment in a nuclear plant often takes 40 years or more.
- Due to terrorism risks, governments must maintain costly security programs to protect nuclear plants that increase the cost of production -- a factor not included in official costs for plant operation but paid for by society.
It's Propped Up by Subsidies
- Nuclear power is not viable without subsidies (estimated to be at least 0.7 ¢/kWh, or 13 percent to 80 percent of production costs), and those subsidies often exceed the value of the energy produced.
- These subsidies hide the true cost of nuclear power, making it seem more cost-effective than it actually is.
It Endangers Workers
- Uranium miners are at risk of exposure to radioactivity on their clothes, skin, and in the air they breathe. Miners and nearby populations are exposed to radon gases. When accidents happen, as in Fukushima, workers are subject to extremely unsafe levels of radiation.
It Hurts the Land
- Uranium ore comprises only a small fraction of the total material that is mined, leaving behind tons of rock along the landscape in the form of radioactive tailings.
- Hundreds of millions of tons of long-lived mining and milling wastes have been generated in the U.S.
- Nuclear power is the largest water consumer among all energy technologies. Heat waves and droughts have often forced the temporary shut down of U.S. nuclear plants.
- There is no long-term disposal method for nuclear waste, and it lasts for thousands of years.
- Radioactive fuel rods are stored in pools around reactors across the country, many of which are too full to be safe.
- Yucca Mountain -- the proposed nuclear repository located just 100 miles from Las Vegas -- cannot guarantee safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste for 10,000 years, the time it takes for the fuel to become safe. Contamination of soil and groundwater is a real threat. Dozens of earthquakes have struck the area around Yucca Mountain since the federal government first considered it as a potential waste site.
- Transporting nuclear waste to a centralized site poses a risk for people who live near the railway lines. An estimated 22,000 rail trips would be required. It would cost billions of dollars. And it would be a potential target for terrorists.
- Unlike wind and solar plants, nuclear reactors, if targeted by terrorists, could endanger millions of people.
- Though nuclear fuel cannot be used to make nuclear weapons, "reprocessed" nuclear fuel can -- posing a security risk.
© 2011 Sierra Club
Originally posted at http://www.sierraclub.org/nuclear/factsheet.aspx