Despite our detailed knowledge of the subject, nuclear technology still suffers from a belief that it is more dangerous than anything else--by an immeasurable amount. This provides extra income for workers in the field, but it loads an unreasonable burden on its economic future. This problem is well illustrated by a few paragraphs in the book, "Prescription for the Planet" by Tom Blees, on the discharge of radioactive materials from power plants. Tom has agreed to let me quote those words here. I commend them to your thoughtful consideration. This is an exact quote, but I won't encumber each paragraph below with quote marks.
- A typical power plant annually releases 5.2 tons of uranium (containing 74 pounds of fissile U-235...and 12.8 tons of thorium)
- Total U.S. releases for 1982 came to 801 tons of uranium (containing 11,371 pounds of U-235) and 1971 tons of thorium.
- Worldwide releases totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of (U-235) and 8960 tons of thorium...
By the year 2040, cumulative releases of radioactive materials from these plants will have reached the following levels:
- U.S. releases: 145,230 tons of uranium ( including 1031 tons of U-235) and 357,491 tons of thorium.
- World releases: 828,632 tons of uranium (including 5883 tons of U-235) and over two million tons of thorium.
- "Daughter products" produced by the decay of these isotopes include radium, radon, polonium, bismuth and lead.
Why is this not splashed all over the front pages? Who in their right mind can consider this acceptable?
[And then Blees springs his punchline, citing a well-known report by Alex Gabbard of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Feb 5, 2008)] : These are the radioactive release figures for coal-fired power plants!
Population exposure to radiation from coal-burning power plants is over a hundred times higher than anything conceivably coming out of nuclear power plants...[and then Blees quotes Gabbard:]
"Large quantities of uranium and thorium and other radioactive species in coal ash are not being treated as radioactive waste. These products emit low-level radiation, but because of regulatory differences, coal-fired power plants are allowed to release quantities of radioactive material that would provoke enormous public outcry if such amounts were released from nuclear facilities. Nuclear waste products from coal combustion are allowed to be dispersed throughout the biosphere in an unregulated manner. Collected nuclear wastes that accumulate on [coal-fired] electric utility sites are not protected from weathering, thus exposing people to increasing quantities of radioactive isotopes through air and water movement and the food chain."
[Blees continues:] If this isn't crazy enough for you, ponder this little factoid: The energy content of the nuclear materials released into the environment in the course of coal combustion is greater than the energy of the coal that is being consumed. In other words, coal consumption actually wastes more energy than it produces...[End of Blees quote.]
The important point here is NOT that the radiation from coal combustion is a public health problem. It is not. (Inhalation of the soot particles, production of acid rain, release of mercury, etc. are another story) But radiation from burning coal is not a hazard. And thus, treating radiation released from nuclear plants, which is at least 100 times lower, as a problem, is not scientifically defensible, and concern over radiation release from nuclear plants is not rational.