The Chernobyl disaster, Fukushima and the Three Mile Island accident are only the best known of hundreds of nuclear industry accidents or “incidents”. If anything, the risks of nuclear reactors are higher today than ever.
Take, for example, the alleged targeting of Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in a terrorist plot. The effects of a nuclear accident last for decades and can reach hundreds of kilometres away.
Check out the enormous health consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.
Nuclear reactors use tonnes of water per second. For example, a nuclear reactor built in Australia could be expected to use 1.7-2.8 million litres of water per minute, according to the Australian Government. Nuclear reactors use water from rivers, lakes, dams or the sea. However, safer energy options – such as wind and solar – require no ongoing use of water. What’s more, they’re available now.
Nuclear reactors take at least a decade to build. In fact, the last US nuclear power station, the Watts Bar-2 reactor, took 43 years to construct. At that rate, they’ll be too slow to help us do anything about climate change.
Nuclear power reactors need billions of dollars in public subsidies. Over half of all energy subsidies from OECD governments have gone to prop up the nuclear industry, according to The Economist magazine. Nuclear reactors often far exceed their construction budgets. The last nuclear power plant built in Canada, Darlington (completed 1993) cost CAN$14.5 billion – more than double initial estimates. Shutting down (decommissioning) nuclear power plants also costs billions of dollars because of the high radioactivity levels that remain in their buildings and equipment.
In Europe the nuclear industry has steadily declined since 1989, as many European countries phase out and shut down nuclear reactors. Belgium, Germany and Switzerland have decided not to build new reactors, or intend to phase out nuclear power.
Australia would need 25 nuclear reactors to meet a third of its electricity needs by 2050, according to the Australian Government. These nuclear reactors would be built near our coasts and major population centres to be close to water and markets. Yet most Australian communities outright reject the idea of a nuclear reactor in their neighbourhood.
Deadly waste from nuclear reactors stays dangerously radioactive for longer than any human civilisation has existed. No government has yet built or demonstrated safe, long-term nuclear waste storage. The only known way to safely prevent the buildup of deadly nuclear waste is to stop producing it.
Scientists tell us we need action on climate change, now. The nuclear power debate is distracting our leaders just when they need to focus most on real energy transformation. Many safe, affordable solutions including energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy can be put in place now without resorting to high-risk nuclear technology.
It's time to make the transition from polluting coal to clean, renewable energy.