My View: Nuclear power puts human health at risk
Global climate change is the biggest public health emergency of our time. Air pollution and greenhouse gases present both immediate and indirect harm to people living across the globe, especially those who already are experiencing discrimination or economic hardship.
The science is clear: we must stop mining and fracking for coal, oil and gas and rapidly transition to clean energy to preserve a healthy, life-sustaining planet.
Investing in untested small modular nuclear reactor projects, as the U.S. Department of Energy just did with Oregon's NuScale Power to the tune of $40 million, is not a part of that transition. Nuclear power has never been and never will be clean energy.
Investing resources in "new" nuclear technology is a dangerous distraction that diverts funds from proven renewables and energy efficiency. From the mining of uranium to the storage of waste, nuclear power presents enormous health risks. Twentieth-century uranium mining led to exploding cancer rates in the Navajo Nation and Spokane Tribe. Small modular reactors would use that same uranium fuel and pollute with the same radioactive waste for which our country has no safe permanent storage site, putting human health at risk all along its life cycle.
Radioactive waste and a high price tag were reason enough for the Truckee Donner public utility, a member of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), to stop paying into NuScale's UAMPS-funded proposal in Idaho Falls. The Northern California town wisely compared NuScale's too-good-to-be-true price target of $45 to $65 per megawatt-hour to solar and wind projects with an average bid of $19 to $38 per megawatt-hour, and made the decision to stop wasting their ratepayers' money on expensive and polluting nuclear power.
Consider the jobs: The Department of Energy reported that in 2016 the solar industry employed 373,000 people, five times more than the nuclear industry. New nuclear builds have been plagued by delays and cost overruns, and NuScale's design advertises more automation than conventional nuclear plants. Transitioning to clean energy has the potential to create new employment opportunities.
Nuclear subsidies just don't pencil out. Even Exelon's William Von Hoene, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at the largest nuclear plant operating company in the United States, went on the record to say that no new nuclear will ever be built in the United States due to the prohibitively expensive cost — including small modular reactors.
The good news is we have tried-and-true renewable energy options like solar and wind that are available now. Oregonian voters already have made the correct decision to prohibit commercial nuclear reactors in our state. Utah's municipal utilities should abandon NuScale's untested, risky, small modular reactors and make use of the abundant Great Basin sunshine to power their clean energy future. It's a tried-and-true job creator, and it's our best shot at preserving a healthy, thriving society.
Patrick O'Herron is a general surgeon practicing acute care surgery at Salem Health and board president of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. Reach him at: