Costs of Nuclear Don’t Add Up
by Edwin Schlapfer, Ophir
Jun 10, 2013 | 2496 views | 1 1 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print


The inclusion of the pro nuclear power film Pandora’s Promise into this year’s Mountainfilm Festival gave me serious pause. I know that there is plenty of effort put toward choosing films for this, my favorite festival. However, this film employed the tactics oil companies have used for years to fight climate science. The use of half truths and outright misrepresentations to plant doubt in the viewers’ minds, did the attendees a disservice.

This film uses people who were supposedly anti-nuclear environmentalists who now support nuclear. When, in fact, they were never anti-nuclear activists nor outspoken critics. The two prominently used people in the film Mark Lynas and Gwyneth Cravens work with the Breakthrough Institute who are known for their anti-climate action and anti-environmental agenda. They have partnered with the American Enterprise Institute known for pushing rightwing energy myths and attacks on efficiency programs. This film shows them now supporting climate change activism merely to push their nuclear agenda.

The idea that nuclear plants are zero carbon emitters is fantasy. Comparing cradle to grave – nuclear is 1/3 the carbon of coal, 1/2 of gas. However it is 10 times more than solar and 30 times more than wind. With the risks of nuclear being so much more.

When I went to the coffee talk and later watched the film I was hoping to learn about a breakthrough technology but instead I found that their Integral Fast Reactor was a  breeder reactor – costing twice as much as current light water reactors. The French tried a breeder reactor, the Super Phoenix, and suffered a financial disaster with production of 7 percent of expected power, which has since shut down. The French are held up as the nuclear nation where in fact fewer French support nuclear than Americans, and they elected President Holland who pledged to reduce nuclear by 30 percent.

For me the biggest issue is the plutonium in, and potentially produced by, the power station, which is a total weaponization problem. Plus the dominant plutonium recycling method only recycles less than 1 percent by volume – not real recycling.

President Carter had nuclear engineering training and he vetoed further funding for our breeder reactor stating the project was "large and unnecessarily expensive" and "when completed, would be technically obsolete and economically unsound....The Clinch River breeder reactor is a technological dinosaur. It's a waste of taxpayers' money. It's an assault on our attempts to control the spread of dangerous nuclear materials. It marches our nuclear policy in exactly the wrong direction....This is no time to change America into a plutonium society.” Congress stopped funding this reactor in 1983 when the General Accounting Office estimated the failed project cost taxpayers $8 billion in 1970’s dollars.

We want a silver bullet to solve our energy issues. With the nuclear bullet we simply shoot ourselves in the foot. The resources, costs, and risks do not add up. And showing films of this ilk only serves to confuse us further. 

– Edwin Schlapfer, Ophir

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June 12, 2013
Really thoughtful, well presented letter.

We should have listened to President Carter, who had a degree in nuclear engineering from the Naval Academy. That was around 1970.

We would have made most of the transition away from fossil fuels by now. But clueless America didn't and now we will suffer greatly for the disregard and vilification of his (and his administration's) ideas.