An A-Z against nuclear power

The Overview section of our new Handbook provides simple explanations of the entire nuclear fuel chain

By Beyond Nuclear staff

What is the difference between an open pit and an in-situ leach uranium mine? How does a nuclear power plant produce electricity? What happens to reactor fuel once it’s no longer usable? What is the difference between high-level and low-level radioactive waste and where is it stored? Why isn’t reprocessing really “recycling”?

We may know the answers to some or all of these questions. But can we deliver a succinct, clear, accessible answer to explain them to someone not already steeped in the issue?

As any activist engaged in anti-nuclear advocacy knows, nuclear power is a complex topic and describing each phase of the nuclear fuel chain can quickly bog us down in long, technical explanations. And once we go there, eyes glaze and we lose our audience.

Proponents of nuclear energy have taken full advantage of this, downplaying and minimizing the risks and using facile and superficially appealing sound bites, unsupported by facts, to convince people that nuclear power is benign and useful for climate change.

Facts are what we believe will change people’s minds. But the idea that bombarding someone with a deluge of irrefutable facts about the dangers of nuclear power will automatically win them to our cause has proven to be an illusion. It doesn’t necessarily work.

cover-thumbnail1We do need facts, of course. And that is where our Handbook — The Case Against Nuclear Power: Facts and Arguments from A-Z — comes in. We must be able to accurately describe why nuclear power is dangerous, uneconomical and unjust. But we must do so in succinct, simple lay language. And then, once the basics are understood, we need to move people. And that is why the Beyond Nuclear International website came to be born, providing a natural home for the Handbook and expanding from facts to compelling narratives.

We have already compiled three Handbook chapters which you can find on the Beyond Nuclear International website under Handbook.  So far, we have published: An Overview that offers simple explanations for every phase of the nuclear fuel chain; Radiation and harm to human health, which lays out the detriments to health of every phase of nuclear power operations; and Climate change and why nuclear power can’t fix it. More chapters are in the works.

At the moment, each chapter is presented as a standalone booklet, available to anyone at no charge to download and reprint. Beyond Nuclear is currently engaged in fundraising for the costs to print these booklets as they urgently need to be distributed to communities living with — or confronting new — nuclear power plants, uranium mines and radioactive waste sites. If you would like to help us print these booklets, please go to the Donate page and choose “Handbook” from the scrolldown menu when making your contribution. And thank you!

Uranium fuel chainThe Overview, which we chose to produce first and to feature in this article, is designed as a simple guide to every stage of the nuclear fuel chain — more accurately described as the uranium fuel chain. After all, “uranium” is the actual fuel needed and “nuclear” is a rather neutral word that tends to sterilize what is really a deadly dangerous industry.

While the Overview is intended largely as a primer for those new to the topic, we felt it might be useful even for some of the more seasoned activists. Given that we usually must focus on the issue closest to home — a disused uranium mine; the threat of a new reactor; the imminent and necessary shutdown of an operating reactor — there are inevitably elements that are less familiar, or explanations that do not come readily to hand about some of the phases we don’t work on every day.

Our goal is to endeavor to help everyone — whether a long time campaigner or an ingenue — feel confident about their ability to articulate the facts, and to do so in clear and non-technical language.

Everything in the handbook is documented through references and footnotes for those who wish to read further, and in order to provide data to those who may challenge our statements.

The status of nuclear power is also constantly changing so some information may go quickly out of date. Costs continue to rise (sky-rocket, in fact), reactors — thankfully — continue to close and so on. We encourage you to find updates on line.

So if uranium hexafluoride seems like a mouthful to you, and you are not sure what the difference is between a pressurized water reactor and a boiling water reactor, the Overview is for you. In upcoming articles, we will flag some of the highlights in other chapters. We hope you find the Handbook useful. And we hope you can help us fund its completion and its print version publication. Donate here.

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