The Zero Carbon Footprint?
It is a proven fact that nuclear energy has minimal emissions compared to that of coal and therefore, produces a minimal carbon footprint on the world… until things go wrong, that is. Nuclear energy has been a prevalent source of power for decades, throughout the world. The USA alone has approximately 109 commercial nuclear power plants (NPPs) that are licensed to operate in 30 states. So, what can go wrong?
Since 1986; 30 years to date, the world has seen at least 16 (3 from Fukushima) partial to complete nuclear meltdowns pertaining to NPPs. Yet as of 1952, there have been more than 100 serious nuclear accidents and incidents from the use of nuclear power according to Wikipedia; referencing Benjamin K. Sovacool’s A Critical Evaluation of Nuclear Power and Renewable Electricity in Asia Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 40, No. 3, August 2010, pp. 393–400, fifty-seven of those accidents have occurred since the Chernobyl disaster (1986), and about 60% of all nuclear-related accidents have occurred in the USA. Chernobyl (Ukraine; previously the U.S.S.R.) and Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture (Japan), being the two worst nuclear reactor “incidents”, will be the primary focus of this exposé in addressing the nuclear power industry as a whole. Fukushima is an ecological tragedy that has appeared to have been swept under the rug; rather, drained into the Pacific Ocean. Following the 2011 Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster, authorities shut down the nation’s 54 NPPs. In 2014, they strategically released radioactive contaminated water from Reactor 1, into the Pacific Ocean.
As of today, the Fukushima site remains highly radioactive, with over 120,000 evacuees still living in temporary housing and some of that land will be un-farmable for centuries. The difficult cleanup job will take 40 or more years, and hundreds of billions of dollars. Sitting on the banks of the Pacific Ocean, these 3 NPPs suffered from what many other fault line NPPs might succumb to. While some say there is no longer any radioactive runoff into the Pacific Ocean and the frozen underground wall and water in the port have been contained, independent testing tells a different story of dangerously high radiation. A 2016 Google Map shows the port is still exposed to the Pacific Ocean. What most people don’t know is that the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean have been a nuclear waste dumping ground for decades, with multiple culprits, including the U.S. Just off the coast of California’s San Francisco Bay alone, The United States government dumped in just 300 feet of water, an admitted 47,800 drums of radioactive waste and other radioactive items. Now known as Greater Farallones National Marines Sanctuary, it is protected habitat. While that sounds like a lot, the US dumped almost 6 times as much off our east coast. While that seems outrageous, multi-culprit dumping occurred between 1946 and 1993 when 37 countries finally agreed to a ban on dumping nuclear poison into the ocean. the United States came in fourth place for official dumping numbers. For perspective, during that timeframe, the U.S. dumped 2,942 units (around 325,000 55 gallon barrels), the USSR dumped, 38,369 units (almost 162 million pounds or roughly 4 million barrels), the United Kingdom dumped 35,088 units (~160,000,000 pounds) and Switzerland dumped 4,419 units – or the equivalent of 5,321 tons. This is just known dumping into the ocean. With the U.S. leading the world in nuclear power, one has to ask; what has been, and is being done with all of the nuclear waste? It has to go somewhere.
Nuclear energy compared to coal energy, produces incredible waste with virtually no way to safely dispose of it or clean it up, and considering many of these plants are built on fault lines, appears to be a ticking nuclear time bomb. But at least there is only a minuscule carbon footprint. Whew!
The coal industry has been vilified as a horrendous polluter of the world. What people are quick to forget, is that coal has helped humanity survive, thrive, industrialize and has over all improved quality of life, for millennium. With coal supplying 30% of global energy and nuclear only 4%, clean coal IS the future and the US is being left on the ash pile. New technologies are coming out that can incredibly diminish the “carbon footprint” of coal. Coal giant Peabody Energy, a private firm headquartered in Missouri and who filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in April of this year, has joined half a dozen other firms and various branches of the Chinese government to build a billion dollar carbon-eating facility in the city of Tianjin, called GreenGen, which extracts carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and channels it into underground storage areas. Known as carbon capture and storage, GreenGen is one of the world’s most advanced attempts to develop this technology. China, with a poor history of being ecologically friendly and not joining the carbon emission bandwagon, has once again gone rouge – but in a good way – with the creation of GreenGen. More than three quarters of China’s power comes from coal; Germany, is getting half of its power from coal; Poland, generates 86 percent of its electricity from coal and South Africa, Israel, Australia, Indonesia are even more dependent on coal; and to top it all off: new coal plants are being built around the world. According to the World Resources Institute, an environmental research group, “almost 1,200 new coal facilities in 59 countries are proposed for construction it is clear that coal is not going anywhere.”
It is fortunate that Peabody has been industrious enough to survive by participating in and contributing its technology to the clean coal movement. There is a reason more plants are being built and usage of coal is rising worldwide. The US must rise to the occasion or be left behind. The U.S. holds 28% of the world’s known coal; while the rest of the world is embracing clean coal, and putting their people to work, the US has shuttered plants.
Companies such as Peabody Energy need to be allowed to bring their innovation back home; Heavy Industrial manufactures such as Caterpillar, need a strong domestic market to be able to thrive, here, in the US.