Don't bet on nuclear power
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By rosemary a. holt

A small new story in The Salt Lake Tribune Oct. 26 described the ongoing problem of nuclear wastewater disposal at the Fukushima Dai-iche nuclear power plant on the eastern coast of Japan.

We all remember the horrific pictures of the devastating tsunami that Japan suffered after an earthquake on March 11, 2011. The story in The Tribune mentioned Japan's dilemma in what to do with Fukushima's wastewater at the crippled nuclear power plant.

The dilemma finds Japan "struggling to find space to store tens of thousands of tons of highly contaminated water used to cool the broken reactors … about 200,000 tons of radioactive water – enough to fill more than 50 Olympic sized swimming pools — are being stored in hundreds of gigantic tanks … the volume of water will more than triple within three years."

Now consider Green River, Utah, where we are complacently hearing talk about the grand idea of building a nuclear power plant on the Green River.

The biblical idiom, "sell your soul for a mess of pottage" could be a warning that might fit Utah's plan to join the energy market by providing nuclear power to other states. The idea might appear to offer monetary gain in the short term, but we might lose something more important in the long term like tourism, outdoor activities and a healthy environment.

Because of the skyrocketing cost of building a nuclear power plant, the federal government must provide a large portion of the funding to build a plant. At a cost of $10 billion to $18 billion and a commitment of 10 or more years to build, dependence on federal dollars becomes mandatory.

No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since 1977 because of the high cost, the problem of waste storage and the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Nuclear power continues to be expensive and is likely to be a third more costly than other sources.

The list of probable risks is lengthy even if Utah never experienced a Chernobyl or Fukushima. Terrorist attacks and human error are among the most likely. Anything that could disrupt the cooling mechanism to the reactors would be a catastrophic event. Nuclear power is a water glutton and Utah is the second driest state.

As the 103 U.S. nuclear power plants age — for example Indian Point in New York — disposal and storage of nuclear waste will become a tremendous responsibility. Long-term storage of nuclear waste is problematic and also a political football. Where do you store waste that becomes hotter rather than cooler over the centuries?

As we look to the future of dealing with nuclear waste, no one wants it, no one knows what to do with it, and no matter where it is ultimately buried it must be monitored generation after generation.

Many European countries are dismantling nuclear plants, including 19 in Germany. Do they know something we don't know or rather something we don't want to acknowledge?

Utahns must become more alert and proactive as we look to the future of our unique culture, rich environment and inviting landscapes. We have a gift of natural resources and renewable energy in Utah and we must not sell our gifts for a "mess of radioactive pottage."

Rosemary A. Holt is a registered nurse, licensed mediator and citizen activist.