The 'Brown Side' of Nuclear Power


By Eric Epstein


Remember the environmentalist who proclaimed the dawn of a new day as he drove around town in his electric powered automobile? He chirped about the cleanliness of this mode of transport until it was pointed out that the battery was charged by the coal burning power plant down the road...

Well, he’s baaaaaaaack!  A little plumper and older but still addicted. This time he’s got a better deal: Nuclear power.

Nuclear advocates argue that the problem of greenhouse gases can be solved by nuclear power plants which do not emit carbon dioxide - at the point of production. What they don’t tell you is what happens to the nuclear wonder pill before it is magically transformed into green penicillin.

The nuclear-carbon shell game only works if you ignore the environmental cost on the “front end” of nuclear power production. From the moment uranium is  mined  - then  milled, enriched, fabricated and transported - it releases large amounts of airborne pollutants.  

How much? Glad you asked.

The enrichment of uranium at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant  releases massive amounts of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which are more damaging as a global warmer than carbon dioxide.  Nuclear fuel production in America creates at least 800,000 pounds of CFCs annually. CFCs remain the primary agent for stratospheric ozone depletion. 

The industry’s official strategy to reduce CFC emissions was to close its Portsmouth enrichment plant and eliminate “roughly half as many miles of leaky pipes.” The Ohio fuel plant is closed, but is undergoing a massive site cleanup to recover uranium, treat and isolate contaminated water and sewage, and decontaminate and remove miles of radioactive tubes, pipes and equipment.

The production of fuel for nuclear reactors is extremely energy intensive.   The Paducah plant, which is currently undergoing a a $191 million cleanup, requires the electrical output of two 1000-megawatt carbon dioxide producing, coal-fired plants.  

With all the radioactive baggage associated with nuclear power production, remember that nuclear fuel is a non-renewable energy source with an escalating cost. The price of uranium oxide, the fuel used in nuclear power  plants, rose every month in 2005 to $35.25 a pound –  a 66 percent increase in 2005 alone.  This was the same wonder drug that sold for $7 in 2001!  The price rose in 2007 to $97 a pound, then dropped again, to settle around $60 a pound in fall 2008. 

Production of nuclear fuel creates more terror targets, more cost, more proliferation and more toxic waste – 30 tons more annually per site. It leaves us with less safety, less security, and fewer resources for alternative energy development.

We need to take a close look at nuclear power’s greenhouse gas “cure” and trace its fuel cycle. It is clear that the production of nuclear electricity is not “clean”, “green” or “carbon free. ” 

Nuclear energy is not the answer to America’s energy addiction. Changing the color of  the drug doesn't make the side effects any safer.


Eric Epstein is the Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert , Inc.,,  a safe-energy organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded in 1977. TMIA monitors Peach Bottom, Susquehanna, and Three Mile Island nuclear generating stations.