The Top 10 Pro Nuclear Power Arguments Refuted

Dr. John Gofman provides here a point-by-point debunking of the arguments most favored by pro nuclear power advocates.

| January/February 1981

067 pro nuclear power arguments

TVA's Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant, one of two atomic reactors in the U.S. licensed after the Three Mile Island accident. Pro nuclear power arguments typically try to misrepresent the health hazards of radiation or misdirect attention to other hazards.


Despite the fact that nuclear power plant construction has slowed since the accident at Three Mile Island, America's conflict over the peaceful use of atomic energy goes on. Indeed, smarting from the wounds inflicted by the near-disaster outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the proponents of nuclear energy have "come out swinging" with magazine and television advertisements, traveling speakers, literature, and even airport advocates who loudly promote their point of view.

Well, there's nothing wrong with people's expressing their opinions, of course. On the other hand, though, the folks here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS feel there's nothing wrong with rebutting such propositions, especially when the arguments seem to us to be either subtly misleading or downright incorrect. So we spent some time seeking out the strongest and most commonly used pronuclear statements we could find. Then we sent the arguments off to Dr. John Gofman, chairman of the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility and one of our country's most prominent opponents of nuclear power. The following, then, are ten of the arguments most often used by proponents of nuclear power and Dr. Gofman's replies.

ARGUMENT 1: We receive more radiation sitting in our living rooms than is given off by nuclear power plants. A brick wall puts out 3.5 millirems of radiation per year, but a nuclear power plant releases only 0.3 millirem in the same time period. In fact, you can stand right next to a nuclear power plant and receive no radiation at all.  

GOFMAN: First, let me agree that certain building materials do give off enough radiation doses to deserve consideration. Let me also agree that there is a very low dose of radiation emitted at the fenceline of a nuclear power plant that is functioning normally. If this were not the case, workers couldn't park their cars nearby, or even approach such utilities at all.

However, the "no dose at fenceline" statement doesn't consider the radiation people can receive from the entire nuclear power fuel cycle. We need to take into account all of the steps that make up the atomic energy process, including the production of mountains of uranium tailings (unshielded piles that are continuously releasing radioactive radon); the inventory of radioactive poisons—such as cesium 137, strontium 90, and iodine 131—that "leak" or "puff" into the atmosphere when a power plant is not functioning normally; the quantities of radioactive wastes being moved in fallible vehicles that can (and do) leak; and the so-called burial sites which have also been shown to leak and spread their material into the environment at large.

Now, let's come to the claim that a nuclear power plant itself releases only 3/10 of a millirem per year. Were that radiation dose—coupled, of course, with other fuel cycle emissions—truly always so small, I would hardly waste my time concerning myself with the hazards of nuclear power. But the proof that advocates of this energy source have no confidence whatsoever in their estimate of the plant's releases lies in their behavior with respect to the legal radiation standards.

6/30/2017 12:36:22 PM

All opinion, no facts. Only see what you want to see.

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