Twenty-five years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, sending plumes of radiation around the planet and devastating the area surrounding the plant to this day. The world learned firsthand then about the dangers of nuclear power. Today, the ongoing nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is a tragic reminder of the threat that nuclear plants pose to nearby communities and the environment. Yet many in Washington appear so captured by the nuclear industry that they are still seeking to run old nuclear reactors longer and harder than ever before, and still trying to subsidize the nuclear industry so it can build new reactors. Will it take a Chernobyl or a Fukushima on U.S. soil before our lawmakers understand that nuclear power is unnecessary, dangerous, and expensive?
Despite the spin from the nuclear industry, the truth is that every nuclear reactor has the potential for a Chernobyl-scale release of radiation. Can we imagine what a catastrophe would look like at one of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States? One in three Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant, and many plants threaten major cities. More than 17 million people live within 50 miles of New York’s Indian Point, an old nuclear plant in an active seismic zone north of New York City. What would happen in New York City if an earthquake, terrorist attack, or accident led to a catastrophic release of radiation?
We don’t have to live with this threat. Instead of allowing these old reactors to run decades beyond their licensed life spans, we should be shutting them down. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars to subsidize the construction of new nuclear reactors, we should be investing in safe solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency. These technologies are ready now — in the last four years, 30,000 megawatts of wind and solar power have been built in the United States, and 0 megawatts of new nuclear power. Our global energy scenario shows that we truly can meet our energy needs and phase out nuclear and coal power. Let’s take the lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima to heart, and phase out nuclear power before the next catastrophe.