Why Nuclear Power is Not an Energy Solution

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Americans from coast-to-coast are pushing to end the nation’s addiction to polluting, 19th century fossil fuels -- coal, oil, natural gas -- by embracing renewable, job-generating energy sources such as wind and solar. With clean energy prosperity in sight, there are well-meaning people who suggest that nuclear power could be part of the solution. The Sierra Club respectfully but vehemently disagrees with them, and a growing group of concerned volunteers has, in fact, begun accelerating the Club’s efforts to address this dangerous industry.

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster only made it clearer that the nuclear industry stands in the way of the clean energy future our children expect, says volunteer Leslie March, who is helping to lead the Club’s “No Nukes” campaign. “We need to heed the lessons learned from this disaster. Our aging reactors are up for re-licensing. Twenty-three have the exact same model design as Fukushima and another 12 are very similar.”

“Just as important,” March says, “is where and how we store radioactive waste. Nuclear energy is not clean, nor is it green. The climate-disrupting pollution spewed during the nuclear fuel processing cycle decreases any benefits.”

The reality is that nuclear power is prohibitively expensive, it’s propped up by subsidies, it endangers workers, it hurts the land, it’s unsafe, and it’s vulnerable to terrorism.

The Sierra Club takes a solutions-oriented approach to addressing environmental threats, including climate disruption, and it’s imperative that we get the solutions right. This push to move beyond nuclear power complements the work the Sierra Club’s 1.4 million members and supporters are doing on virtually every front.

  • It complements, for example, our work to protect water resources because water pollution is a frequent result of nuclear power and radioactive waste storage.
  • It complements our Resilient Habitats Campaign because we’re protecting our wildlands and treasured landscapes from uranium mining and milling.
  • It complements our environmental justice work because the nuclear industry often imposes its dangers disproportionately on poor neighborhoods and on communities of color.

In short, there are lots of reasons I’m happy to see our volunteers joining this effort. Susan Corbett, who works on the No Nukes team as chair of our South Carolina chapter, notes that money spent on nuclear plants could be put to much better, much safer use, if spent on true clean energy innovation. “Old nuclear plants,” she says, “are ticking time bombs of deterioration -- failure in those cases can mean an economic and environmental disaster for the adjoining communities.”

And of course, there’s the radioactive waste. “National transportation of radioactive waste puts many communities far away from reactors in danger,” Corbett says.

With new information leaking out daily about the consequences of the Fukushima disaster, the time is ripe to spread the truth about this serious threat to our health and environment. Sierra Club Activist team with more than 130 members is working on this campaign at the local and national level.

“The fights may be local, but often we have to persuade elected officials and decision-making agencies at the federal level,” says Susan.

The U.S. can do better than fossil fuels and nuclear power. Join our Nuclear-Free Campaign today.

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