Diana Forkel: Nuclear genie out of the bottle


Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:53 p.m.

Tanks leaking highly radioactive sludge at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation have been making news recently, but this is a long-standing issue.

The budget sequester is suggested as the reason for the fuss: ongoing contamination cleanup efforts at Hanford cost over $2 billion dollars annually. Decrepit conditions at World War II-era nuclear weapon facilities, including an aging nuclear arsenal and a host of environmental concerns are well noted in a Sept. 9 Washington Post article.

Gainesville, of course, is removed from the immediate concerns of living in close proximity to a nuclear-weapon complex. Nuclear energy, however, has played a role in Florida’s energy mix. Yet, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is a devastating reminder that what man builds, nature can destroy.

And when nuclear waste storage is involved, the effects of an accident are compounded.

A Bloomberg Businessweek report published on the two-year anniversary of Fukushima states, “It may take up to 40 years to fully decontaminate the area, and a recent estimate from plant operator Tepco pegs the cleanup bill at $125 billion.” Yet, despite ongoing disaster relief, this article notes a shifting in official attitudes back to nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is experiencing something of a revival in this country. Duke Energy plans to build a nuclear power plant in South Carolina and possibly Florida. Be forewarned: New nuclear power plants cost billions, even before cost overruns. Thus, our financially beleaguered federal government guarantees these loans to encourage investment.

Yet, it’s easy to imagine contractors and subcontractors cutting corners to save money — with disastrous results.

In the event of an accident, the taxpayer would be on the hook to reimburse investors and shoulder most disaster-related costs.

A government looking to reduce its debt shouldn’t be guaranteeing nuclear power plant loans. It is also a sad commentary that our government began paying utility companies to store wastes onsite in 1998, as it failed to deliver on its promise to provide a waste depository by that date.

Nuclear wastes will be with us for a very long time. Despite the tremendous costs associated with these wastes, our government cannot afford to turn its back on this problem, which is quite critical at our aging nuclear weapon facilities — especially the Hanford Reservation.

There is no putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle. War, accident, and acts of nature occur.

More — much more — needs to be done to render nuclear wastes less harmful for our own safety and that of future generations.

Diane Forkel lives in Gainesville.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top