Humanist Position regarding Nuclear Energy

April 24, 2011

“Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.” – Albert Einstein

The unfolding disaster in Fukushima, Japan and the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union lead World without Wars and Violence to declare its position regarding Nuclear Energy1.

This position is based on the following points:

Human life as the central value
As humanists, we put human life as the central value, we are in favour of development and technology, and we must learn from those disasters that have occurred in the development of technology and industry so that we do not repeat them again in the future.

The effects of radioactivity on human life
Radioactivity is not a man-made phenomenon, yet human activity since 1945 has constantly raised the level of radioactivity in the environment leading to unknown numbers of cancers and deaths.

Although medical science is not in agreement on all the details, it is beyond doubt that radioactivity is bad for life. When the body is subjected to the effects of ionising radiation such as those found in radioactive elements, the body’s cells start to break down which, in the most severe cases, leads to cancers and the failures of organic systems essential for life.

Whereas medical researchers (and those who fund them) argue over how much radiation is acceptable on a daily basis, it is accepted that the damage caused by exposure to radiation is cumulative and such damage does not always manifest itself immediately, making it impossible to attribute the cause of cancer to any one event alone.

The legacy and irresponsibility of nuclear energy
Nuclear power plant operators are unable to deal with the waste products they generate. The by-products of uranium and plutonium fission stay radioactive for millennia. Scientific research has been unable to find a way to speed up radioactive decay processes so that unstable elements decay quickly to stable elements.

Countries and operators have built their plants in geographically seismic regions and in coastal regions where they are susceptible to freak tsunamis. Incidents can never be completely eliminated and terrorism is too great a danger.

Since nuclear power started there have been hundreds of releases of radioactivity into the environment, including the major events of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. Given that radioactive materials will be with us for thousands of years, if incidents keep on happening with the same frequency, the entire biosphere will be too toxic for life within a few centuries.

Nuclear power is economically enviable
Nuclear power facilities cannot be built without government assistance. Currently in the USA the only way funding for new nuclear power stations can be achieved is with government guarantees. Insurance companies will not give insurance because the potential for disaster is too great.

US government subsidies support the construction process, they support operating costs through subsidies to the mining and uranium enriching industries and they support water and security costs, they support the costs of nuclear waste management and finally they support the decommissioning costs. All of this is paid for by tax payers so that operators may make a profit and pay shareholders. If all of these costs were included in the cost of the electricity generated it would end up being the most expensive way imaginable of boiling water to turn electricity turbines.

In the same way that the coal power stations have to include the costs of carbon emissions and pollution costs, so the nuclear power industry should cover their own costs. Only in this way can the supposed market forces—the bible of today’s economics—work properly to get rid of this energy source.

Flawed logic in the planet’s energy strategy
There is an assumption that the planet can continue to consume energy at an accelerating rate for the rest of eternity, and there is a belief, actively-promoted by the nuclear industry, that nuclear energy of the sort generated today is capable of meeting this requirement. It is widely accepted that there is probably no more than 100 years supply of fossil fuels left. It is also known that solar energy, wind, hydro-electric, geo-thermal and tidal energy are available sources that don’t create carbon emissions once operational.

These energy sources also have the added advantage that they don’t create waste products that cause security and health risks for the planet for several millennia.

A truly global, humanist and intelligent approach to meeting the planet’s energy needs is to invest as much as we can afford into exploiting these energy resources. Clearly this means vast reductions in the military budget to meet such investment. In addition, the planet needs to invest in energy efficiency such as insulation and energy efficient appliances so that demand for energy reduces.

Nuclear energy is a pretense to create raw materials for nuclear bombs
Nuclear reactors were first built to create plutonium for nuclear weapons, the generation of electricity was seen as a way to subsidise the process. The process of obtaining plutonium from uranium is straightforward enough to make any country capable of generating nuclear energy, also capable of producing plutonium for weapons.

Nuclear power plants are bombs waiting to be detonated
Nuclear power plants—even were we to accept that they were designed for altruistic purposes of providing cheap energy—become military targets in times of war and are always terrorist targets in a world with such social injustice. When attacked by conventional bombs or a 9/11 style attack, although an explosion of the sort experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is unlikely, the distribution of radiation around the planet would have consequences far greater than those experienced then and later on in Chernobyl.

Hypocrisy of United Nations Agencies and nuclear weapons states
The Non-Proliferation Treaty was designed to achieve nuclear disarmament, prevent proliferation and allow member states to pursue peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Clearly it has failed in its mandate; there has been no disarmament and there are now four nations (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) possessing nuclear weapons and not belonging to the NPT. To achieve this all of these nations have been assisted by one or more Nuclear Weapon State in contravention of the treaty. Iran, who is a signatory to the NPT, is treated as some kind of pariah state and threatened with war as it pursues its goal of creating a nuclear power station – as is Iran’s right under the NPT agreement.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was established in 1957 to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and has since been endowed as the promoter and regulator of nuclear technology – a situation that, were it to happen in other industries, would be denounced as undemocratic. In addition the World Health Organisation has a written agreement with the IAEA to the intent that no report on the subject of radiation can be written by the WHO without prior approval by the IAEA.

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