Nuclear power generated electricity – not so cheap and clean

On April 26, it will be 25 years since the level 7 accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine – and a quarter of a century on, the accident isn’t over yet. Cheap electricity isn’t so cheap after all.

The initial accident was only the beginning of Chernobyl’s legacy. A huge area around Chernobyl remains off limits for human habitation and will continue to be for many years to come.

In some parts of Britain, farming activities are still affected by Chernobyl’s initial fallout and new threats from the reactor continue to hang heavy over Europe.

The structure initially hastily erected to contain the reactor has been deteriorating for years and a new structure is urgently needed.

A new sarcophagus being constructed to contain the reactor for the next 100 years is of incredible proportions. The containment will cost around 2.3 billion dollars to construct.

Called the New Safe Confinement, the arch shaped structure will be 92.5 metres (303.5 ft) high and 150 metres (492.1 ft) long. The overall arch span will be 270 metres (885.8 ft). It will enclose an area of 39,000 square meters (around 420,000 square feet).

According to this article on The Guardian, the New Safe Confinement will weigh in at 32,000 tonnes. That in itself is astonishing, but even more so the fact it will be initially built away from the reactor and then slid over the top of it.

All this for a structure that is only designed to last a hundred years and to only act as a lid on a mess we’ve made. The nuclear waste contained within needs to be kept safe for a thousand times that duration. Sure, they are going to remove the radioactive material once the New Safe Confinement is built (that’s the plan anyway), but what then?

And what of the other 300,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste The Guardian refers to that the nuclear industry has accumulated over the years. How do you keep that safe for a thousand centuries – guaranteed? The bigger question is why are we even dabbling with things that produce waste products that will be so dangerous for so long?

300,000 tonnes – that is incredible.. and frightening. What a legacy for future generations to have to deal with, all so that we could have our “cheap” power now.

If you take into account the long term costs of keeping all that waste safe, I guess it’s not so cheap after all. Then there’s the costs of “accidents” along the way, the environmental damage wrought by mining for uranium, the generous subsidies the industry receives, etc.

Some might say there’s only been a couple of major nuclear accidents in the last X years, but what rip-snorters they’ve been in terms of costs, lives affected and land contaminated. Countries such as Japan can’t afford to lose any land, particularly agricultural.

Imagine living a couple of hundred years from now and reading about what ours and the last few generations have done to ourselves and the planet.

As the old saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Japan’s Fukushima is our repeat lesson, another ongoing train wreck that has affected countries far beyond its shores. How many more lessons do we need?

Another unsettling bit of nuclear trivia – one in three people in the USA live within 50 miles of a nuclear power station.

If we’re going to continue our nuclear energy love affair, let’s focus on making better use of that huge nuclear reactor in the sky – the sun, which is a reasonably safe 93 million miles away – via solar power technologies.

Something we can all do, even if we can’t stick solar panels on our rooftops; and aside from protesting about nuclear power, is become more energy efficient in our homes and workplaces – less electricity demand means less of these potential nuclear nightmare power stations.


Nuclear power and the environment
Uranium vs. thorium
The true cost of coal