While nuclear energy generation accounts for a lower level of greenhouse gas emissions than electricity generated by fossil fuels, the pollutive impact of the nuclear industry must be examined. Uranium processing accounts for a high level of greenhouse gas emissions and has traditionally been a highly destructive form of mining globally. Throughout the process of uranium ore mining, large amounts of radioactive radon gas are emitted, in addition to millions of tons of tailings deposits near the mining sites. Alongside the sites are acid ponds used to separate the usable uranium isotopes from the waste. These ponds are extremely lethal to both humans and wildlife, with leaks occurring in numerous U.S. locations.
The enrichment process occurs in huge factories that require massive amounts of energy generated from fossil fuel sources. The only uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., located in Paducah, Ky., utilizes two large coal-fired power plants to support its enrichment activities. While the nuclear industry purportedly accounts for 18 percent of the nation’s energy supply, it also consumes 3 percent of the energy supply for its support activities.
Oklahoma should not be a target for new nuclear energy development.
Second, the waste from nuclear generating facilities remains the most pressing issue for the proposed adoption of nuclear energy in our nation’s energy portfolio. Even if the U.S. adopts reprocessing of spent fuel rods, as done in Europe, tons of radioactive rods require permanent disposal in secure locations. As of today, the U.S. has no solution to permanent storage of nuclear waste. Aggressively investing in an industry with a waste byproduct for which we have no options for permanent, safe disposal is not the answer for addressing the impacts of today’s fossil-fueled energy generation.
Finally, the financial impact upon the citizens of the U.S., and more directly those of Oklahoma, is sufficient in itself to discourage development. Currently, the cost of constructing and operating a nuclear power plant facility is estimated to run anywhere from $5 billion to $15 billion. National proposals, in addition to those in the Oklahoma Legislature, would allow for electric generating entities to pass these absurd costs to the consumer in advance of actual completion of the project. Even if the facility never actually operated or generated electricity, the ratepayers would be stuck with the bill for planning, designing and permitting such a facility.
The financial, environmental and health costs associated with nuclear energy development are too high. With abundant solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency resources in Oklahoma, there is no justification for exposing our citizens to the costs of nuclear energy development.
Scott is an Oklahoma City attorney and lobbyist with Oklahoma Progress, PLLC, representing wind industry clients and the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club.