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Nuclear Turns Fashionable

Should nuclear power really circumnavigate the planet with mini-power plants?

BY ROBERT HUNZIKER, CounterPunch 26 May 23

Small Modular Reactors (SMR) are the new nuclear craze, especially with the U.S. Congress, as America’s representatives see SMRs as a big answer to energy needs and reduction of greenhouse gases, advertised as a green deal for clean energy that skirts the heavy costs of paying the Middle East billions upon billions. However, the devil in the details is dangerously overlooked.

Notable nuclear accidents: NRX (1952) Kyshtym (1957) Windscale (1957) SL-1 (1961) Wood River Junction (1964) K-27 (1968) Three Mile Island (1979) Constituyentes (1983) Mohammedia (1984) K-431 (1985) Chernobyl (1986) Tokai (1997, 1999) Fukushima (2011) … but wait, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Small Modular Reactors (nuclear SMRs) are about to pop up around the world. What could possibly go wrong?

“Multiple and unexpected failures are built into society’s complex and tightly coupled nuclear reactor systems. Such accidents are unavoidable and cannot be designed around.” (Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents (Princeton University Press, 1999)

“On dozens of occasions because of human error or technical miscue or active threat, the world has come dangerously close to the brink of nuclear conflagration… it is a terrifying history of which most people remain ignorant.” (Julian Cribb, How to Fix a Broken Planet, Cambridge University Press, 2023.)

Should nuclear power really circumnavigate the planet with mini-power plants?

For Germany, which closed its last three nuclear plants in April 2023, the country’s Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management conducted a study: “SMRs have been the subject of repeated discussion in recent times. They promise cheap energy, safety, and little waste. BASE commissioned an expert report (in German) to evaluate these concepts and the risks associated with them. The report provides a scientific assessment of possible areas of application and the associated safety issues. It concludes that the construction of SMRs is only economically viable for a very large number of units and poses significant risks if widely deployed.”

Yet, “resistance to nuclear power is starting to ebb around the world with support from a surprising group: environmentalists… This change of heart spans the globe, and is being prompted by climate change, unreliable electrical grids and fears about national security in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” (Source: Why Even Environmentalists are Supporting Nuclear Power Today, NPR, August 30, 2022

U.S. senators recently introduced a nuclear energy bill called the Advance Act with bipartisan support, hopefully enhancing and advancing America’s world leadership role in nuclear energy by deploying SMRs by the bucketful, idealized as a “cleaner smarter safer solution” to today’s bulky nuclear power plants. Advance Act will cut red tape and make it easier and much faster for SMRs to gain a foothold in the marketplace……………………..

The excitement over nuclear is palpable, as politicians’ hands tremble with excitement, introducing what’s billed as the perfect green clean way to solve energy needs. There are cheerleaders galore. The U.S. Congress for one is a very influential cheerleading group, but it’s more pervasive than that. Big players like Japan and China are going all-in for nuclear. Japan Adopts Plan to Maximize Nuclear Energy, in Major Shift, AP News, December 22, 2022.

Wait a moment… isn’t Japan currently being criticized in several quarters of the world for dumping Fukushima toxic radioactive water into the ocean? After all, the U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories, with over 100 member laboratories, issued a position paper strongly opposing the toxic dumping because of a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data in support of Japan’s assertions of safety.

Regardless, last week the G7 nations gave its blessing for Japan to dump Fukushima’s toxic water into the Pacific Ocean. Hmm.

Interestingly, PM Shinzo Abe (1954-2022) shortly after Fukushima’s meltdown 10 years ago, assured the International Olympic Committee in consideration of holding the games in Tokyo, that “everything was under control.” Notwithstanding numerous assurances by Japanese authorities of no harm, no foul, over the years, several independent journalists in Japan have reported numerous deaths because of the Fukushima meltdown and its aftermath but never acknowledged by the government. Assurances are not always assurances!

Therefore, it’s only fair that the darker side of nuclear cheerleading — yea yea yea no nuclear no nuclear — deserves some notoriety. For starters, the results of a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 31, 2022, entitled Nuclear Waste from Small Modular Reactors.

Stanford News also published the study: Sandford-led Research Finds Small Modular Reactors Will Exacerbate Challenges of Highly Radioactive Nuclear Waste. The study concludes that SMRs will generate more radioactive waste than conventional nuclear power plants. Stanford and the University of British Columbia jointly conducted the study, e.g., SMRs will be manufactured in factories and industry analysts claim SMRs will be cheaper and produce fewer radioactive byproducts than the big bulky conventional reactors; however, the study discovered the upsetting fact that, pound-for-pound when compared to the big bulky conventional nuclear plants, SMRs will increase nuclear waste… considerably!

………………………………………………………………………………………. Meanwhile, SMRs are about to enter a world of nuclear power that has sharp critics. For example, crib notes of a detailed analysis of nuclear by Greenpeace, which has considerable nuclear expertise on staff, provides an offset to the ringing applause around the world for SMRs: 6 Reasons Why Nuclear Energy is not the Way to a Green and Peaceful World d/d March 18, 2022.

Greenpeace is not at all hesitant about exposing the “myths being perpetuated by the nuclear industry.”

For starters the scale of proposed nuclear energy installations does not come close to meeting the needs to go to net zero emissions in a timely fashion, according to projections by the World Nuclear Association, greenhouse gas emissions would only drop by 4% by 2050, assuming 37 new large nuclear reactors brought onto the grid per year from now to 2050. Yet only 57 new reactors are schedule for construction over the next 15 years. A number for SMRs is unknown currently.

Nuclear power plants are extremely dangerous as easy targets for terrorists, cyberattacks or acts of war. Moreover, they are unique hazards for accidents by nature like Fukushima and/or by human error like Chernobyl, and some accidents never go away.

“For the first time in history, a major war is being waged in a country with multiple nuclear reactors and thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel. The war in southern Ukraine around Zaporizhzhia puts them all at heightened risk of a severe accident…. Nuclear power plants are some of the most complex and sensitive industrial installations, which require a very complex set of resources in ready state at all times to keep them operational,” Ibid.

Nuclear power plants are a water-hungry technology that must, must, must have a lot of water to cool the radioactive hot stuff. Nuclear power facilities are vulnerable to water stress, warming rivers, and rising temperatures. Facilities in the US and France have often been shut down during heatwaves or have scaled down activity, especially France’s shakiness in 2022. Global warming is nuclear power’s biggest enemy.

And, then there’s this: “Electricite de France SA’s fleet of 56 atomic power plants has long been the backbone of Europe’s energy system, but in 2022 it was more of a millstone……………………………………………..

For a prize-winning compelling read about the most toxic place in America and a terrifying look at the radioactive nuclear materials produced at Hanford for four decades: Atomic DaysThe Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America (Haymarket Books, 2022)

Regardless of the strongest assurances, nuclear accidents happen. They just happen!

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at


May 27, 2023 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, spinbuster

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