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Environmental Studies

Nuclear Power

Why Nuclear Power Now?

Plant Siting

Environmental and Safety Concerns

Nuclear Waste

What Can You Do?

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Why Nuclear Power Now?

    Global warming is one of the most pervasive and damaging environmental problems that we face today and because of this a campaign for greener solutions is constantly being fought.  When nuclear energy first came into vogue many touted it as the cheap, easy, and clean solution to all of the world’s pollution problems.  The problem was that it is neither cheap, easy, nor clean in the long run.  After the initial boom nuclear power plants stopped being constructed in the United States for a variety of reasons.  New concerns about safety arose after disasters such as Three Mile Island, construction was not an economically viable option, and people began to realize that nuclear power plants were not a clean source and instead created waste that would haunt the environmental consciences of future generations for thousands of years.  In the years since the decline of the nuclear power industry, the necessity of finding alternatives from coal plants has not diminished and in the recent years during the Bush administration a new push has begun for a resurgence of nuclear power.

    In 2005 President Bush signed into law a new Energy Policy Act which contains many beneficial provisions for the development and expansion of the nuclear power industry.  The bill served to revive many programs aimed at offering incentives to energy corporations planning on constructing new nuclear power plants.  Several different tax credits were given to cheapen the construction costs of new nuclear power plants and a framework was put in place to cover the costs of delays to nuclear power plant construction.  Under the terms of the bill the government will cover 100% of the costs of delays during the construction of the first two new plants, up to $500 million each, and 50% of the cost of delays for the next four plants, up to $250 million each.  The bill specifically allows for the paying of delays costs incurred during litigation.  This ensures that if any concerned citizens attempt to bring suit in a court of law the taxpayers will foot the bill.  Additionally the Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers loan guarantees up to 80% of the total project cost to prevent a company in the nuclear power industry from defaulting.  An extension of the Price-Anderson Act for another twenty years was also included.  The Price-Anderson Act is a government funded insurance program for the nuclear power industry removing the liability from the operator of a nuclear power plant in the case of a lawsuit and instead the monies will be paid out of a government fund.[1]

            In addition to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 the government has taken several other steps toward providing nuclear power with a disproportionate amount of funding when compared to other energy sources such as solar or wind power.  In the fifty years between 1948 and 1998 the nuclear power industry was granted over $77 billion in research subsidies which accounted for over 60% of the total federal energy research budget for that half century.[2]  The Nuclear Power 2010 program enacted in 2002 has provided means for private corporations to initiate a partnership with the government and subsequently have a significant amount of the necessary funding subsidized by the federal government.  For years these massive subsidies that are unmatched in any other field of energy have been justified by the argument that nuclear power is the cheapest and cleanest alternative to our dependency on fossil fuels, specifically coal.  This is simply not an accurate representation of the truth.  Greenhouse gas emission ratings, which are consistently cited as reason to move towards nuclear power, are not measured on a full cost basis and as such do not take into account auxiliary sources of emissions such as machinery used at uranium mines.  Furthermore, nuclear energy is cheaper for corporations to build but much more expensive for tax payers.  The massive amounts of subsidies and tax breaks provided for the nuclear power industry and the disproportionate amount of money spent on nuclear power research has created a very skewed depiction of the actual viability of different energy options.  If renewable sources such as solar and wind power were given an equal share of funding and governmental support they could easily become viable and powerful sources of energy.
    Nuclear power’s costs extend beyond the economic sphere into issues of environmental justice, human safety, and the destruction of the environment.  Sites for new nuclear power plants are selected with minimal input from surrounding communities or anyone else that would be affected if another disaster like Three Mile Island were to occur.  Nuclear waste is another contentious issue that is consistently left off the long list of costs of an expansion in nuclear power plants.  Nevada is in the process of being forced to house the nation’s nuclear waste against their will, millions of Americans will be subjected to nuclear waste being transported through their communities, and there still is not a long term plan for the storage of new waste that will continue to be an inevitable output of nuclear power plants.  Nuclear power can no longer be viewed as a reasonable solution to the United State’s energy needs or as an answer to the cries for a clean source of energy.  Undeniably a shift away from coal power must occur but the shift must not be nuclear power.  The nuclear power industry has built itself up around an institutionalized system of disparity that exists not only in the realm of government subsidies and funding but in the sphere of decisions making, those who make the decisions have consistently not been the ones who are affected by the decisions.

External Links:
Green Progress
Sierra Club Clean Energy
DOE: Renewable Energies
Price Anderson Act
Nuclear 2010 Program

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[1] “Government Programs Supporting the Building of New Nuclear Plants.”  Accessed April 14, 2006 at

[2] Cochran, Thomas, Christopher Paine, Geoffrey Fettus, Robert Norris, Matthew McKinzie.  “Commercial Nuclear Power.”  Natural Resources Defense Council.  Issue Paper October 2005.

[3] Image borrowed from 


Last updated:  5/2/2006


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