Nuclear power presents a security threat of unprecedented proportions: It’s capable of a catastrophic accident that can kill hundreds of thousands of people, with a byproduct that is toxic for millennia. To call nuclear power “clean” is an affront to science, common sense and the English language itself, yet industry backers, inside and outside of government, are attempting to establish a new “Clean Energy Standard” to promote nuclear power. These proposals suffer from three fundamental misconceptions: 1) that pollutants other than carbon dioxide are irrelevant when defining “clean energy,” 2) that because radiation is invisible and odorless it is not a toxic pollutant and 3) that nuclear power is carbon-free. None of these is true.
In their most recent report, released in 2005, the US National Academy of Sciences determined that no safe level of radiation exposure exists—every exposure to radiation increases the risk of cancer, birth defects and other disease. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepts the linear no-threshold (LNT) hypothesis, which states that any increase in dose of radiation, no matter how small, results in an incremental increase in risk, as a conservative model for estimating radiation risk.
“Nuclear Energy Is Dirty Energy (and Does Not Fit Into a ‘Clean Energy Standard’,” Michael Mariotte, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, January 2011. http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/nuclearenergyisdirtyenergy.pdf
“Nuclear Reactor Crisis in Japan FAQs,” Union of Concerned Scientists, April 7, 2011 + updates. http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_risk/safety/nuclear-reactor-crisis-faq.html
“Radiation Exposure and Cancer,” U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, October 20, 2010. http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/health-effects/rad-exposure-cancer.html
Student Researcher: Aaron Peacock, San Francisco State University
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University