NUCLEAR ENERGY NOT THE ANSWER

MAHVISH JADOON
Aug 06 - 12, 2007

Sometimes the behavior of those in power seems to be that of petulant children. When they see someone else with something, they automatically want it also regardless of need. The reaction of Pakistan's government to the India-US nuclear deal reminds one of such child-like behavior: when India decides to set up more nuclear power plants, so does Pakistan. Do we need more nuclear plants? Definitely not. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said he wants 8% of the country's electricity demand to be met by nuclear energy by 2025, to increase nuclear generation from 450 megawatts to 8,800 megawatts by 2030.

The proponents of nuclear energy production in Pakistan make their case by claiming that it is cost-effective, environmentally friendly; and that we are running out of alternate sources of energy. According to former PAEC Chairman Dr. Pervez Butt, "I do not need to talk of the advantages of nuclear power for electricity generation... The reduction in greenhouse gases, the economic advantages, the impetus to industrial development and the resulting increase in well being and happiness of the people needs no elaboration." Let us indeed elaborate on these claims.

NUCLEAR ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT:

All the recent hype about global warming has presented itself as a cash cow for the nuclear industry. They argue that Uranium, unlike coal or oil, does not release green house gases, thus being the ideal "future fuel". What the proponents of nuclear energy forget to mention is the huge amounts of electricity needed to enrich uranium, most of which is provided by dirty fossil fuel plants which release all of the traditional green house gases. The problem of radioactive waste and contaminated materials has still not been solved after more than half a century. Radioactive waste and closed uranium mines can continue to pose a risk for 200,000 years!

According to a story which appeared on BBC in April of 2006, a remote Punjabi village by the name of Baghalchur is being used a nuclear waste dump. It was the site of Pakistan's first uranium mines. There has been a dramatic increase in infant mortality since the dumping of toxic waste began; milk-producing cattle have also allegedly died due to previously unseen diseases. The residents of Baghalchur are currently in a legal battle with the nuclear authorities over radioactive dumping. The relevant authorities insist the dumping is safe and poses no threat to the environment. A far-fetched claim since radioactive decay cannot be "contained" safely, it destroys steel, diamond, gold, glass, and every alloy known or conceived by man. And it obviously destroys all biological systems.

ECONOMICS OF NUCLEAR POWER:

Not a single nuclear plant has ever been built without direct or indirect subsidies, in the last 50 years nuclear subsidies have totaled close to $145 billion. Economic efficiency in the nuclear industry has actually worsened with time. The cost of nuclear construction has increased with construction programs going considerably over budget. In India completion costs of the last 10 reactors have gone at least 300% over budget. The average construction time has also increased from 66 months in the mid-70's to 166 months (almost 10 years). The longer construction time is due to a range a problems including managing the construction of increasingly complex reactors.

No insurance company has ever agreed to insure the nuclear industry against accidents, and understandably so. In 1979, a partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in the US caused it to turn from a $900 million asset into a $2 billion clean-up job. In 1986, a reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded, pouring lethal radiation into the atmosphere. The death toll is estimated at 300,000; infant mortality and childhood cancer rates have been horrific. The cost of the Chernobyl disaster has been conservatively estimated at a half-trillion dollar and still climbing.

ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF ENERGY:

The pressing electrical needs of Pakistan's economy can be met much sooner and in a more cost effective manner by renewable technologies, coupled with energy efficiency and conservation. Pakistan loses a huge amount of electricity annually due to inefficiencies of the infrastructure and power theft. Some energy analysts argue that Pakistan's energy infrastructure is the worst in Asia. The country's coal reserves are an estimated 193 billion tones; despite this the share of coal in the energy supply is only 5 percent. More investment thus needs to be put into energy technologies such as gastification of coal, and wind and solar power. The International Energy Agency predicts a cost reduction up to 25% for wind power and 50% for solar photovoltaics from 2001 to 2020. In 2005, worldwide investment in renewable energy capacity was almost $40 billion. In the global marketplace, nuclear energy is losing to cheaper, less financially risky, and faster competitors.