Trusting In The Unknown
by James Glaser
August 6, 2008

Yesterday, John McCain announced his plan to build 45 new nuclear power plants if he is elected President of the United States. Here is how CBS News reported it:

NEWPORT, MICH.) — To show his support for nuclear power, John McCain toured the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Plant here today, comparing the safety of the plant to the Navy's warships he was stationed on. The plant, 30 miles outside Detroit, hasn't always had the best safety record. One of the reactors had a partial meltdown in 1966, and although there were no injuries or release of radiation, the accident allegedly led to the term "China syndrome," after an engineer said the nuclear reaction "could go all the way to China."

John McCain is old. I believe he is 72 or will be 72 when and if he takes office. At that age, Senator McCain doesn't have to worry about what we are going to do with the spent fuel rods these new power plants will produce.

McCain must be trusting that some time in the future we will solve that storage problem. Today, we do not know what to do with that by-product of nuclear power plants we have now, and our nuclear scientists have been working on that problem for over fifty years.

The nuclear industry is pouring money into this presidential race with the hope that our energy problems will force us to build more power plants. Barack Obama has come out in favor of nuclear power too, and yes, new plants are safer than old plants. But whenever there is a problem with nuclear power, it can be a really big problem. Spilling radioactive material is a lot different than an oil spill.

Russia found that out when their Chernobyl nuclear plant had a melt-down. Yes, I know they had a different type of power plant, but we have had a few close calls with ours, too. The Chernobyl melt-down released thirty to forty times the radioactive fallout of the atomic bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 336,000 people had to be resettled, and if a meltdown happened here at a plant close to one of our major cities, we might have to resettle millions.

Building new nuclear power plants is all fine and good if and when we solve the problems we know those power plants have. We don't have a plan in place to store all the radioactive material today's nuclear power plants produce. Adding new plants before we solve that problem is foolish.

Trusting that we will solve that problem before we have a major accident is trusting in the unknown, and I think that is scary. Remember, many of our brightest scientists have been working on this problem for half of a century, and they still don't have an answer.

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