Nuclear Nightmare: Ralph Nader comments on crisis in Japan, and nuclear energy in the US


Nuclear Nightmare
by Ralph Nader

The unfolding multiple nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States—many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the west coast exposed to potential tsunamis.

Nuclear power plants boil water to produce steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear power’s overly complex fuel cycle begins with uranium mines and ends with deadly radioactive wastes for which there still are no permanent storage facilities to contain them for tens of thousands of years.

Atomic power plants generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Over forty years ago, the industry’s promoter and regulator, the Atomic Energy Commission estimated that a full nuclear meltdown could contaminate an area “the size of Pennsylvania” and cause massive casualties. You, the taxpayers, have heavily subsidized nuclear power research, development, and promotion from day one with tens of billions of dollars.

Because of many costs, perils, close calls at various reactors, and the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, there has not been a nuclear power plant built in the United States since 1974.

Now the industry is coming back “on your back” claiming it will help reduce global warming from fossil fuel emitted greenhouse gases.

Pushed aggressively by President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu, who refuses to meet with longtime nuclear industry critics, here is what “on your back” means:

1. Wall Street will not finance new nuclear plants without a 100% taxpayer loan guarantee. Too risky. That’s a lot of guarantee given that new nukes cost $12 billion each, assuming no mishaps. Obama and the Congress are OK with that arrangement.

2. Nuclear power is uninsurable in the private insurance market—too risky. Under the Price-Anderson Act, taxpayers pay the greatest cost of a meltdown’s devastation.

3. Nuclear power plants and transports of radioactive wastes are a national security nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security. Imagine the target that thousands of vulnerable spent fuel rods present for sabotage.

4. Guess who pays for whatever final waste repositories are licensed? You the taxpayer and your descendants as far as your gene line persists.  Huge decommissioning costs, at the end of a nuclear plant’s existence come from the ratepayers’ pockets.

5. Nuclear plant disasters present impossible evacuation burdens for those living anywhere near a plant, especially if time is short.

Imagine evacuating the long-troubled Indian Point plants 26 miles north of New York City. Workers in that region have a hard enough time evacuating their places of employment during 5 pm rush hour. That’s one reason Secretary of State Clinton (in her time as Senator of New York) and Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the shutdown of Indian Point.

6. Nuclear power is both uneconomical and unnecessary. It can’t compete against energy conservation, including cogeneration, windpower and ever more efficient, quicker, safer, renewable forms of providing electricity. Amory Lovins argues this point convincingly (see Physicist Lovins asserts that nuclear power “will reduce and retard climate protection.” His reasoning: shifting the tens of billions invested in nuclear power to efficiency and renewables reduce far more carbon per dollar ( The country should move deliberately to shutdown nuclear plants, starting with the aging and seismically threatened reactors. Peter Bradford, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) commissioner has also made a compelling case against nuclear power on economic and safety grounds (

There is far more for ratepayers, taxpayers and families near nuclear plants to find out. Here’s how you can start:

1. Demand public hearings in your communities where there is a nuke, sponsored either by your member of Congress or the NRC, to put the facts, risks and evacuation plans on the table. Insist that the critics as well as the proponents testify and cross-examine each other in front of you and the media.

2. If you call yourself conservative, ask why nuclear power requires such huge amounts of your tax dollars and guarantees and can’t buy adequate private insurance. If you have a small business that can’t buy insurance because what you do is too risky, you don’t stay in business.

3. If you are an environmentalist, ask why nuclear power isn’t required to meet a cost-efficient market test against investments in energy conservation and renewables.

4. If you understand traffic congestion, ask for an actual real life evacuation drill for those living and working 10 miles around the plant (some scientists think it should be at least 25 miles) and watch the hemming and hawing from proponents of nuclear power.

The people in northern Japan may lose their land, homes, relatives, and friends as a result of a dangerous technology designed simply to boil water. There are better ways to generate steam.

Like the troubled Japanese nuclear plants, the Indian Point plants and the four plants at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon in southern California rest near earthquake faults. The seismologists concur that there is a 94% chance of a big earthquake in California within the next thirty years. Obama, Chu and the powerful nuke industry must not be allowed to force the American people to play Russian Roulette!


8 thoughts on “Nuclear Nightmare: Ralph Nader comments on crisis in Japan, and nuclear energy in the US

  1. Gene Berkman

    Excellent analysis by Mr Nader.

    Opposing nuclear power should be a real issue for Libertarians. Nuclear power, as Mr Nader points out, would not be viable without government financial guarantees and the protection from liability afforded by Price-Anderson.

    In 1979 and 1980, Students for a Libertarian Society made opposition to nuclear power an issue, as did the magazine Libertarian Review. This lead to a backlash by other libertarians around Rothbard and Reason magazine, who attacked anti-nuclear libertarians for being “anti-technology.”

    The experience of Japan after the Tohoku earthquake has given us new information as to just how dangerous a technology nuclear power can be.

  2. paulie

    Agreed completely with Gene Berkman. I did not know that about Rothbard and Reason. I don’t think nuclear power would be viable in a truly free market now.

  3. TinFoilCap & JockeyShorts to Match

    I sure didn’t know there were 104 of them in the U.S. There’s one about 100 miles north/NE of me. I don’t want to die shivering in the dark (as Reagan said referring to what”those environmental kooks”wanted to happen to us) but safer ways are very much more appealing to me now!

    That thing is still putting out DEATH every second in Japan. Something needs to be done NOW !!!

    I wonder what Mr. Link has to say about the situation? Mr. Link was an LP POTUS hopeful in ‘o8 and that same year was the Objectivists VP nominee. He currently is their ’12 VP nominee. One of his main planks was to build 1,000 nuke power plants!

  4. Don Lake, FYI, not necessarily a unilateral endorcement

    internationally, as republished in Britain’s ‘New Science’ ………..

    Japan’s record of nuclear cover-ups and accidents …….

    * 16:59 18 March 2011 by Peter Aldhous and Zena Iovino

    * For similar stories, visit the The Nuclear Age Topic Guide

    With the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant still crippled in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, questions are being raised about the preparedness of its operator, the Toyko Electric Power Company (Tepco).

    Why, for instance, were the diesel motors supposed to power the cooling system in an emergency so vulnerable to flooding?

    As this time line shows, the readiness of Japan’s reactors to survive major seismic events has been a growing concern.

    What’s more, the nation’s entire industry – not just Tepco – has an undistinguished history of nuclear accidents and a poor record for transparency when things go wrong.

  5. Porn Again Christian

    It would be good to see the LP take the SLS/Libertarian Review position now.

  6. California dodging raindrops

    1. Who benefits by killing Nuclear as an energy option world-wide?

    2. Who will step in to replace the energy demand for the 25% of Japans power that came from nuclear?

    3. Who will Germany turn to instead of nuclear energy with 200,000 people protesting?

    4. Why are all of these “spontaneous” uprisings happening in oil-rich countries right now?

    5. Why did they not stop the nuclear accident by airlifted 2 megawatt portable generators, or powering the grid from our aircraft carrier — which was done in NYC)? (We offered, they turned us down for mysterious reasons).

    6. Why did we allow the radiation to hit the USA without aircraft releasing reagents over the radioactive clouds, causing radio nuclides to fall into the ocean in rain (as suggested by top international scientists)?

    7. Why are we allowing BP to drill in the arctic despite having the worst safety record of all?

    8. Why did the international economy crash when oil peaked at $147bbl?


    a) Big Oil
    b) Big Oil
    c) Big Oil
    d) All of the above

    To say that we can immediately replace nuclear with alternative energy is naive, ignorant of world economics, and ignorant of energy science.

    Oil is the crack cocaine that has fueled massive and unnatural population growth, as well as every artificial economic growth.

    We’ve reached peak oil, and it’s all downhill from hear as the price goes up and up and the greed increases like an anorexic vampire who could never possibly suck enough life from the world.

    The only solution nobody is discussing is to STOP ECONOMIC GROWTH. FREEZE IT where it is. Then, redistribute the wealth proportionately.

    Talk about an unpopular option! FREEZE THE GROWTH to give us one last chance to catch our breath and save our species from extinction.

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