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The medical and economic costs of nuclear power

By Helen Caldicott - posted Monday, 14 September 2009

None of the new countries wanting nuclear power have the appropriate nuclear regulations, independent regulators, the domestic maintenance capacity and the skilled workforce to run a nuclear reactor. Nor do they have an adequate grid system to absorb the output of a nuclear power plant.

Furthermore some of these countries either have a government hostile to the concept of nuclear power (Norway, Malaysia, Thailand), hostile public opinion (Italy and Turkey), major economic problems (Poland), earthquake or volcanic risks (Indonesia) or some have an absolute lack of all necessary infrastructure (Venezuela).

France with its large nuclear infrastructure is currently threatened with a severe shortage of skilled workers. The Word Nuclear Industry Status Report reveals that currently only 300 nuclear science graduates are available in France for 1,200 to 1,500 open positions, and in the US only one quarter of such graduates plan to work in the nuclear industry. Most of the current operators, baby boomers, are close to retirement.


And there is one other major bottleneck for new reactors - only one corporation in the world, Japan Steel Works, can manufacture large steel forgings for many reactor pressure vessels.

These problems, together with the global financial crisis mean that the prospects of funding for the nuclear industry - most of which is government sourced - looks grim. New reactors are too risky and expensive to attract private investor funding, and the nuclear industry will not proceed with its “new build” unless they can transfer the risk to the tax payers or ratepayers.

In the US, efforts to forge the nuclear industry renaissance has been thwarted in eight states from Kentucky to Minnesota to Hawaii, Illinois, West Virginia, California, Missouri and Wisconsin. When the Yucca Mountain repository for high level waste was vetoed by President Obama, Dave Kraft, Director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago said “Authorising construction of nuclear reactors without first constructing a radioactive waste disposal is like authorising the construction of a new Sears tower without the bathrooms. Neither makes sense; both threaten public health and safety.”

How does this state of affairs relate to Australia? Well, as we know Australia sits on 40 per cent of the world’s high grade uranium; the ALP, in its wisdom, has determined that there should be no restrictions on uranium mining proceeding throughout the country. There are more than 60 potential uranium mines in Western Australia alone. In South Australia, the Olympic Dam mine owned by BHP Billiton is to triple in size to become the largest uranium mine in the world. Honeymoon, Beverley and the Four Mile deposit are all located in South Australia, the latter two are owned by an American company General Atomics, a weapons corporation which also manufactures the pilotless drones that are currently used by the military in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the light of these two studies it is difficult to understand how Kevin Rudd and the Labor Government can have no moral scruples about our uranium exports.

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About the Author

Dr Helen Caldicott, has devoted the last 38 years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the necessary changes in human behavior to stop environmental destruction. She is also the Founding President of the Physicians for Social Responsibility which, with other national groups won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. She is President of people for a Nuclear Free Australia and a member of the Spanish Scientific Committee advising the Spanish Prime Minister.

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