As of 30 March 2012 in 31 countries 436 nuclear power plant units with an installed electric net capacity of about 370 GW are in operation and 63 plants with an installed capacity of 60 GW are in 15 countries under construction. As of end 2010 the total electricity production since 1951 amounts to 67,240 billion kWh. [i]
Average solar energy over the entire earth = 164 Watts per square meter over a 24 hour day so the entire planet receives 84 Terrawatts of power each day[ii]
Sun provides freely 84,000,000,000 kWh/day.
Nukes produce 67,240,000,000,000 kWh in 61 years.
Sun takes 800 days to provide what took nukes 22,265 days.
So the sun now delivers energy at about 28 times the rate of all the world’s nukes.
Meanwhile, nuclear power plants depend upon uranium as a fuel. Uranium is perhaps the least common natural element in the universe and can be found on Earth at about the same concentrations as the so called “rare earth elements.”[iii] Uranium miners suffer high rates of lung cancer and the mines leave a toxic mess that is difficult to clean up.[iv]
The process of using a nuclear reaction to boil water, which has been compared to using a chainsaw to cut butter[v], makes the situation much worse. The product of the reaction is plutonium, a manmade element that is as toxic as any substance ever measured. Just standing near it increases your chances of contracting cancer. No living creature has ever been observed to survive ingestion of any portion, however small.[vi]
Every one of those 436 nuclear plants, plus the military and research reactors not included in this total, represents a potential Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukishima[vii]. Even if they were all shut down ASAP, decommissioning would be a major project that would have extremely longstanding implications. Although it is an unstable element, Plutonium will remain toxic longer than the Earth will remain in orbit around the sun.
The question that haunts me is “why did people do this?” It took thousands of people to design and build all those nuclear reactors, among them the most highly educated scientists and engineers of all time. What breakdown in basic ethics led these brilliant people, and the powerful leaders who paid them and paved the way, to perform such a supremely stupid series of actions?
To my knowledge, not a single worker among the thousands involved in the construction of all these nuclear reactors ever said “I will not help you to create this toxic nightmare.” They all did their work, took their checks, and went home to play with the children whose grandchildren they had just doomed to extinction. Why?
[v] Amory Lovins used this analogy to describe the messy functionality of a nuclear power plant.
[vi] Controversial studies at Los Alamos, including planting PU in unwitting human subjects, resulted in painful rapid death.