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Nuclear Power: Not a Healthy or Safe Solution for the Clean Power Plan

New nuclear power was not included as an option for state implementation of the Clean Power Plan. Allowing credit for keeping older nuclear plants running was ultimately excluded from the final Clean Power Plan as well. There are many good reasons for this. Physicians for Social Responsibility is strongly opposed to nuclear power as an answer to the climate change threat for the following reasons:

Threats from Radiation Exposure

Radiation exposure threats1 include cancers of many types, immune system suppression, birth defects, miscarriage, cataracts, and mental health disorders, to name only a few. Ingested radionuclides: Uranium- 237 can cause kidney disease; cesium-127 can harm muscle tissue, potentially causing cardiac disease.

Nuclear reactors have an operational history of horrific disasters and breathtakingly close calls, including Fukushima Daiichi (Japan), Chernobyl (Ukraine) and Three Mile Island (U.S.). In Japan, over 110,000 people were forced off their land with only modest compensation. Estimates are as high as $250-500 billion for total costs, with cleanup anticipated to take decades.2 An estimated 220,000 people were forced to leave their homes forever, after the meltdown and explosion at Chernobyl, and the radioactive fallout from the accident made 11,260 square kilometers of agricultural land and forests in Belarus and Ukraine permanently unusable.3

Other radiation risks include:

  • Exposure subsequent to a terrorist attack on a reactor
  • Exposure subsequent to an explosion in a spent fuel pool (not covered in a containment structure and present at all reactor sites)
  • Increase in leukemia risk in children the closer they are to an active reactor. A study was conducted in Germany; a U.S. study was tabled.4
  • Uranium miners experience high rates of lung cancer, tuberculosis and other lung disease. More than $550 million has been paid in compensation through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to 5,590 uranium miners.5

Nuclear Waste: no permanent plan

Each year, the U.S. nuclear reactors create 2,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste and 12 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste.6 Each individual reactor produces on average 25–30 metric tons of spent fuel a year. About 65,000 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel already have accumulated at U.S. reactor sites. Plans for the only proposed permanent U.S. repository site, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, have been cancelled, as it could not safely contain the radioactivity and protect the public. Even if Yucca Mountain were to open, by 2010, the U.S. had already created enough spent fuel to fill up the costly site.7 No other alternative sites exist.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acute Radiation Syndrome: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.

2. Costs and Consequences of Fukushima Daiichi, Steven Starr.

3. "Overview of health consequences". Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

4. Kaatsch, Peter, et al. "Leukaemia in young children living in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants." International Journal of Cancer 122.4 (2008): 721-726.

5. US Dept of Justice, Civil Compensation Division, "Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Awards to Date," (11/16/2011)

6. Statement of Michael Hertz, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Civil Division before Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (February 2, 2011).

7. Mark Holt, Congressional Research Service, "Nuclear Waste Policy: How We Got Here" before the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (March 25, 2010)

Page Updated February 1, 2016