Demystifying Nuclear Power: Coast-to-Coast Reflections and Summer FAQs

Demystifying Nuclear Power: Coast-to-Coast Reflections and Summer FAQs

We at Fairewinds decided to use this opportunity to address some of the key areas people are asking about post C2C.  Some of these questions were answered in full on other portions of the show, and some we only briefly mentioned.  Other questions raised have been discussed and/or answered on Fairewinds site via video, podcast, or FAQs (frequently asked questions).

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Review: Japan's Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World

Review: Japan's Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World

A review by Fairewinds' president Maggie Gundersen of Mark Pendergrast's book, Japan's Tipping Point. Japan was at a crucial tipping point in its energy paradigm when Mark first wrote this book after the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.  

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Downstream

Downstream

The once pristine watershed of the Great Lakes is now home to 30 nuclear power reactors. Several temporary nuclear waste storage sites on Lake Huron near the Bruce site are in imminent danger of becoming permanent nuclear waste dumps that will be abandoned underground within one mile of the Lake. 

 

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The Economics of Nuclear

The Economics of Nuclear

Here at Fairewinds Energy Education, we believe that this year, 2015, marks the tipping point for our energy future. For years, we have heard visionaries like Amory Lovins, Mycle Schneider, and Dr. Mark Cooper present real data and economic analyses that show a renewable energy-future is more feasible than the current paradigm of coal, oil, nuclear, and gas.  Now we see their projections come to fruition...

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Anticipating the Unthinkable

Anticipating the Unthinkable

NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reports that in March of this year, Planet Earth broke the all-time high record on carbon dioxide concentrations at 400 parts-per-million, leaving the most optimistic limit of 350 in the distant dust.  It is an ominous landmark, to say the least, and there are constant reminders that something big and unpleasant is transforming the world around us.

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Generational Transfer Of Risk

Generational Transfer Of Risk

As most of you, our followers and viewers, know, Fairewinds Energy Education has real concerns about nuclear waste abandonment as nuclear corporations begin the process of decommissioning and dismantling nuclear power plants. Sponsored by the Lintilhac Foundation, Fairewinds issued a major report about decommissioning Vermont Yankee in March 2015.  Beyond Nuclear, Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, and Vermont Citizens Action Network invited Fairewinds Energy Education to speak at the United States premiere of Decommissioning Our Nuclear Power Stations: Mission Impossible? in Montpelier, VT, Wednesday, June 3rd.

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Chernobyl – A Human Perspective

Chernobyl – A Human Perspective

It’s been nearly 30-years since the tragic nuclear meltdown at the former Soviet Union Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine near the Belarus border. The massive amounts of radioactivity spewed during this catastrophe immediately destroyed thousands of lives, and the Soviet government’s inaction and cover-up of the amount of radiation has left thousands more with severe birth defects, cancers, and other life-long disabilities.

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Chernobyl Tragic Truth

Chernobyl Tragic Truth

I was an expectant mother here in the United States in 1986 when news of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster began to seep through the veil of secrecy surrounding the Soviet Union. Though the events leading to the meltdown began unfolding on April 26 of that year, news of any potential for international impacts was well-off the radar of average Americans like me until the warmth of approaching summer drew us into our gardens.

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Three Mile Island Opera

Three Mile Island Opera

I was startled in October 2011, when I received a phone call and email from Karl Hoffmann, a German Public Radio and Television (ARD) correspondent and freelance journalist, requesting an opportunity to interview and film Fairewinds’ chief engineer Arnie Gundersen for an opera about the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI).

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Cry Me A River Exelon

Cry Me A River Exelon

Who is providing for whom? The federal government has allowed nuclear plant operators to expect American taxpayers to foot the bill to build their facilities, subsidize their insurance to the advantage of their investors, and sympathize with their complaints that clean renewables are enjoying too much support in the energy marketplace. Meanwhile, we, the people, are supposed to ignore the dirty, dangerous fuel sourcing practices of the nuclear industry, the even more hazardous, unresolved issue of nuclear waste management, and the overarching potential for terrorist exploitation.

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Uranium Waltz

By Sue Prent

Unless you’re a science geek who routinely trawls YouTube for entertainment, you probably haven’t seen this fascinating clip that observes a small pellet of uranium as it just sits sealed in a lighted cloud chamber infused with vaporized alcohol.

To the strains of a Strauss waltz, puffy little trails begin to erupt from the uranium in staccato straight lines, shooting through the alcohol cloud and radiating in all directions like soft white fireworks. It’s a mesmerizing sight to behold.

It is also a sobering one, because what we are enabled to observe through that cloud of alcohol is the behavior of one of the most aggressive toxins on earth: radioactive decay.

This is the stuff that gives nuclear weapons their destructive energy; the instability that, in the course of things, has been somewhat inefficiently harnessed to generate simple electricity.

It takes a whole lot of uranium, a relatively low energy source of radiation, to produce a little bit of weapons-grade plutonium. Between the mine and the battlefield, turning uranium into reactor fuel is a convenient first step on the way to enabling nuclear weapons, which is a major reason so many countries want “nuclear power”.

The dependent relationship between nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations provides one of the biggest bones of contention in the world today.

Setting that aside for others to consider, and returning to the simple lesson that is so vividly illustrated by the video, one cannot ignore the fact that even the tiniest particle of uranium is alive with radioactive potential.

Imagine the environmental hazards associated with every stage of uranium processing, from extraction to waste disposal, when every tiny particle is literally bristling with projectile energy.

While uranium in minute amounts is a common enough component of rock and soils available almost everywhere, there are relatively few places on earth where concentrations of uranium rich mineral deposits are great enough to represent opportunities for cost-efficient mining.

The danger to mine workers is not so much from the uranium ore, which has low concentrations of pure uranium relative to the mass in which it is sequestered. The real danger lies in the fine particulates and radon gas that are released from the rock in the course of mechanical extraction.

This hazard threatens the surrounding environment and population as well, since slurry and waste from the mining operation find their way into groundwater and may be redistributed through the air as well.

Even decades after uranium mines have been exhausted for all practical purposes, surrounding populations must endure the continuing threat posed by tailings, a waste byproduct of uranium mining. For example, hundreds of residents of the Navajo communities of North Church Rock and Quivera, New Mexico, where two nearby uranium mines ceased to be profitable and were abandoned at the close of the Cold War have suffered enormous health risks due to the mountainous piles of waste that the uranium mines simply left behind.

Ever since these New Mexico mines closed, corporate owners of the two lethal stacks have been feuding with the federal government over who is responsible for the cleanup.

At least one of the waste piles is scheduled to move down the road to a tailings dump, which will distance it somewhat from the local population, if not from the greater environment.

That move in itself raises another point of contamination in the uranium fuel chain: transportation. To transfer the waste to a less objectionable location, it is estimated that 38 open dump trucks will be required. Loading the trucks will stir up so much harmful particulate matter that the government will relocate residents for up to five years following the move in order to allow the dust to settle again, and to monitor the grounds for remaining contamination.

Just imagine each of those tiny particles being energized like that uranium pellet in the cloud chamber, and small enough to be inhaled… Now imagine what happens on a cellular level when all that bristling energy lodges deep in the human lung and continues to radiate indefinitely.

As those loaded dump trucks wheel through the environment to their ultimate destination, it isn’t difficult to imagine that they will be seeding the air with radioactive dust and particulates, endangering all who live and work along the way.

These same hazardous scenarios play out on a daily basis around active uranium mines, and at the processing plants where uranium ore is refined into nuclear fuel. I would guess that the concentration of harmful radiation in millings and tailings might be even greater as the uranium undergoes further refinement in the fuel production process.

Even if none of the collateral contaminants distributed by mining are considered, when nuclear energy production is viewed strictly from the perspective of fuel sourcing, it is clearly far, far from a “clean” energy source.

Cited Links:

http://www.sciencealert.com/watch-uranium-emits-radiation-inside-cloud-chamber

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2014/08/06/uranium-mining-%20navajo-reservation-cleanup-radioactive-waste/13680399/