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Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Waste

The majority of high level radioactive waste produced comes from the fuel in the core of nuclear power reactors. Irradiated fuel is the most radioactive fuel on the planet and accounts for some 95% of radioactivity generated in the last 50 years from all sources, including nuclear weapons production. Once removed from the core, irradiated fuel is stored in cooling pools on the nuclear reactor site. Each 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant produces about 500 pounds of plutonium a year and about 30 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste.

Environmental Costs

While electricity generated from nuclear power does not directly emit carbon dioxide (CO2), the nuclear fuel cycle does release CO2 during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most CO2 intensive industrial operations and as demand for uranium grows because of new electricity generation and new plant construction, CO2 levels will also rise.

In a case study in Germany, the Oko-Institute determined that 34 grams of CO2 are emitted per generated kilowatt (kWh). Other international research studies show much higher figures (up to 60 grams of CO2 per kWh). In comparison to renewable energy, energy generated from nuclear power releases 4-5 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced, taking into account the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

US government regulations allow radioactive water to be released into the environment at "permissible" levels. Accurate accounting of all radioactive wastes released into the air, water and soil from the nuclear fuel cycle is simply not available. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission relies on self-reporting and computer modeling from reactor operators to track radioactive releases and project dispersions.

Health

It has been scientifically established that low-level radiation damages tissues, cells, DNA and

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See Also

Treaties on Nuclear Energy


More on the Web

Glossaries for Nuclear Energy and Weapons Terms: Atomic Archive Glossary
Center for Nonproliferation Studies has a detailed Glossary of Nonproliferation Terms, Organizations, and Treaties.
Infomanage Nuclear Weapons Glossary
Public Broadcasting System Nuclear Reaction Glossary
Union of Concerned Scientists
Renewable Energy Project

other vital molecules. Effects of low-level radiation doses cause cell death, genetic mutations, cancers, leukemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders.

Radioactivity is measured in "curies." An average operating nuclear power reactor core has about 16 billion curies at its core, which is equivalent to the long-lived radioactivity of at least 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. In comparison, a large-sized medical center with as many as 1000 laboratories in which radioactive materials are used, has a combined inventory of about 2 curies.

Nuclear Safety

There have been repetitive problems with security, safety and environment impact in the nuclear industry. Radioactive contamination does not discriminate between national borders and nuclear power plants threaten the health and well-being of all surrounding environments.

Nuclear Sustainability

Nuclear power plants produce extremely toxic radioactive wastes that are long-lived and have no safe means of disposal. Disposal is neither scientifically credible nor is there any sustainable options for interim storage. Producing long-lived radioactive wastes with no solution for its disposal will leave serious and irreversible environmental damage and degradation for generations to come, which is contrary to the principles of sustainability.

An Endless Source of Energy?

There have been several failures in breeder reactor programs. The Monju fast breeder reactor in Japan was closed in 1995 until recently because of a serious accident. The French and UK breeder reactor programs have also been permanently closed. There is also no foreseeable commercial development of fusion reactors.

Additionally, uranium supplies are rapidly diminishing. The combined effects mean that nuclear power will not be able to supply the long-term needs of the world's energy demands.

Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Energy

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed on July 1, 1968 and entered into force on March 5, 1970. Its initial duration was 25 years. In 1995 it was extended indefinitely, with a review conference to be held every five years. At the heart of the NPT is a central bargain in which the Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) agreed to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons. In exchange the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) pledged to end the nuclear arms race and to negotiate nuclear disarmament (Article VI). As an incentive, the NNWS were promised assistance with research, production and use of nuclear energy for "peaceful" purposes (Article IV). Each NNWS also agreed to accept "safeguards" under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. These safeguards do not apply to the NWS. The treaty defined a NWS as one that had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967. However, any country with a nuclear reactor can in theory produce a nuclear weapon.

Proliferation

MOX, or mixed oxide plutonium, is an experimental fuel in which plutonium, usually from dismantled nuclear weapons, is mixed with uranium for use in commercial nuclear reactors. The MOX projects require transporting plutonium by rail, ship or truck. The use of plutonium MOX fuel creates serious security threats as the transportation of plutonium increases the possibilities for theft and/or diversion of plutonium.

In a study conducted in 1999, the Nuclear Control Institute determined that a severe accident at a civilian reactor powered by plutonium or MOX fuel could cause twice as many fatal cancers as an identical accident at a reactor that uses uranium fuel. MOX plutonium fuel produces more radioactivity than does uranium fuel.

The use of plutonium MOX fuel also greatly exacerbates the problem of storing and disposing high-level radioactive waste. The use of plutonium in a nuclear reactor will not get rid of plutonium, which is an impossible goal. The idea behind using MOX plutonium, rather, is to render it less approachable by terrorists or "states of concern" because it is so lethal.

Nuclear Regulatory Comission

Governors' Designees Receiving Advance Notification of Transportation of Nuclear Waste

On January 6, 1982 (47 FR 596 and 47 FR 600), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published in the Federal Register final amendments to 10 CFR parts 71 and 73 (effective July 6, 1982), that require advance notification to Governors or their designees by NRC licensees prior to transportation of certain shipments of nuclear waste and spent fuel. The advance notification covered in part 73 is for spent nuclear reactor fuel shipments and the notification for part 71 is for large quantity shipments of radioactive waste (and of spent
nuclear reactor fuel not covered under the final amendment to 10 CFR part 73).
The following list updates the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of those individuals in each State who are responsible for receiving information on nuclear waste shipments. The list will be published annually in the Federal Register on or about June 30 to reflect any changes in information.

Questions regarding this matter should be directed to Spiros
Droggitis, Office of State and Tribal Programs, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, Washington, DC 20555, (Internet Address: SCD@NRC.GOV) or at
(301) 415-2367.

Dated at Rockville, Maryland, June 20, 2001.

For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Paul H. Lohaus,
Director, Office of State and Tribal Programs.
[FR Doc. 01-16103 Filed 6-28-01; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7590-01-P