More evidence that nuclear power is not an environmentally friendly way to go came to light today. Six underground tanks holding radioactive waste are leaking at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington. (See this New York Times article, February 23, 2013)
Hanford was built in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. As a primary government facility dealing since then with radioactive materials, it could be expected to have the best and tightest controls over nuclear wastes. But even there tanks supposed to hold radioactive wastes are leaking, and not for the first time.
I went to Hanford in the 1980s to see ecological research going on there, in part funded to consider possible environmental effects of nuclear radiation. There was good ecological research going on about the desert ecosystems of that countryside, and especially about Saddle Mountain.
The plant was built in then comparatively rural countryside and covered a large area, about half the area of Rhode Island, seemingly a good location for this kind of work and the storage of dangerous materials. But times were changing by the 1980s and continue to change today. My visit reinforced the conclusion that this was not a good place for leaky storage tanks. It borders the Columbia River where it is joined by the Yakima and Snake Rivers. And it is near the tri-City area of Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, Washington, with a population exceeding 200,000. Commercial fruit orchards were and are nearby.
Even if the current area of Hanford Reserve makes it unlikely that radioactive materials will leak into ground water and spread long distances, these new leakages raise a larger question. If long-term storage of nuclear wastes is not secure at Hanford, what about the rest of our nation’s 70,000 tons of radioactive wastes, now in many “temporary” storage facilities around the nation? Funding to manage these has been greatly decreased in recent years. Do you live near one of these sites? See this map:
“Speak Your Mind” – OK! 🙂
With the considerable due respect for your knowledge and accomplishments, what form of viable large-scale electricity production IS wholly environmentally friendly? Not even wind, hydro or solar are without negatives – in habitat disruption, embodied energy, maintenance costs, etc. And they are inconsistent sources likely requiring large water reservoirs to serve as energy storage if they are to comprise a substantial fraction of the energy mix. Unless there have been developments of which I am not aware? (Possible – I’m not the physicist….)
Should not the ills of nuclear power be weighed relative to comparable alternatives? For example, you cite the 70,000 tons of nuclear waste. But coal, (excepting natural gas) the most likely alternative, results in vastly greater quantities of toxic ash sludge, to say nothing of the CO2 output and other airborne pollutants. Granted, comparing the relatively short duration of toxic concentrations from coal by-products to the long half-life of nuclear waste is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but still. What are we to do – go back to stripping the forests for wood to burn? That might be the conclusion an average person might reach when stymied by environmentalists’ long-standing and adamant opposition to nuclear.
I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Can you give me any hope on this topic?
Daniel Botkin says
Thanks for this comment. Yes, every energy source has some effects on the environment. The most benign effects are from solar and wind. These are mainly aesthetic effects on scenery. Raptors can fly into wind turbine blades, but with proper location, this can be minimized. The U.S. Audubon Society, acknowledging this, supports wind energy, because the benefits outweigh the risks, as long as location is chosen properly. As you state, coal has very negative effects on environment. As I explain in detail in my book, “Powering the Future,” it will be best for the environment the more we go to wind and solar. I urge you to read that book for the detailed answers to you question.