The majority of high level radioactive waste produced comes from the fuel in the core of nuclear power reactors. Irradiated fuel is the most radioactive fuel on the planet and accounts for some 95% of radioactivity generated in the last 50 years from all sources, including nuclear weapons production. Once removed from the core, irradiated fuel is stored in cooling pools on the nuclear reactor site. Each 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant produces about 500 pounds of plutonium a year and about 30 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste.
While electricity generated from nuclear power does not directly emit carbon dioxide (CO2), the nuclear fuel cycle does release CO2 during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most CO2 intensive industrial operations and as demand for uranium grows because of new electricity generation and new plant construction, CO2 levels will also rise.
In a case study in Germany, the Oko-Institute determined that 34 grams of CO2 are emitted per generated kilowatt (kWh). Other international research studies show much higher figures (up to 60 grams of CO2 per kWh). In comparison to renewable energy, energy generated from nuclear power releases 4-5 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced, taking into account the entire nuclear fuel cycle.
US government regulations allow radioactive water to be released into the environment at "permissible" levels. Accurate accounting of all radioactive wastes released into the air, water and soil from the nuclear fuel cycle is simply not available. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission relies on self-reporting and computer modeling from reactor operators to track radioactive releases and project dispersions.Health
It has been scientifically established that low-level radiation damages tissues, cells, DNA and other vital molecules. Effects of low-level radiation doses cause cell death, genetic mutations, cancers, leukemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders.
Radioactivity is measured in "curies." An average operating nuclear power reactor core has about 16 billion curies at its core, which is equivalent to the long-lived radioactivity of at least 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. In comparison, a large-sized medical center with as many as 1000 laboratories in which radioactive materials are used, has a combined inventory of about 2 curies.
There have been repetitive problems with security, safety and environment impact in the nuclear industry. Radioactive contamination does not discriminate between national borders and nuclear power plants threaten the health and well-being of all surrounding environments.