The Sierra Club has a long-standing policy against nuclear energy development in the United States both at the national and state level. While the nuclear energy industry is currently enjoying a resurgence in interest because of its lower greenhouse gas emissions, numerous issues exist which cause concern for the potential increase of nuclear energy in our national energy portfolio.
First, the idea that the nuclear fuel process produces "no greenhouse gases" is a deliberately misleading statement. 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 beyond its mere emissions. 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 mining sites are acid ponds used to seperate the usable uranium isotopes from the waste. These ponds are extremely lethal to both humans and wildlife and the holding ponds are not fail-proof, many having leaked across the United States.
The nuclear enrichment process occurs in huge factories which require massive amounts of energy generated from fossil fuel sources. The largest enrichment plant in the United States, located in Paducah, Kentucky, utilizes two large coal-fired power plants to support its enrichment activities. Thus, while the nuclear industry purportedly accounts for 18% of the nation's energy supply, it also consumes 3% of the energy supply for its support activities.
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 United States adopts reprocessing of spent fuel rods, as done in Europe, tons of radioactive rods require permanent disposal in secure locations. The United States has failed to provide a permanent storage location, after severing funding for the national repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The impacts of nuclear energy development for today's economy will impact generations for the foreseeable future. Aggressively investing in an industry with a waste by-product 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. Replacing one problem with another is a short-sighted solution.
Finally, the financial impact upon the citizens of the United States, and more directly those of Oklahoma, is sufficient in itself to discourage nuclear energy development. Currently, the cost of constructing and operating a nuclear energy generating facility is estimated to run anywhere from $5 to $15 Billion. National proposals, in addition to numerous proposed pieces of legislation in the Oklahoma State Legislature, would allow for electric generating entities to pass on these absurdidly high costs to the consumer/ratepayer in advance of actual completion of the project. Thus, 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 currently too high for the citizens of Oklahoma. With abundant solar, wind, and natural gas resources in Oklahoma, there is no justification for exposing our citizens to the costs of nuclear energy development.
Please feel free to contact me with any further questions. 405.445.9435.
Robert "Bud" Scott, Esq.
Sierra Club of Oklahoma
PO Box 60644
Oklahoma City, OK 73146