Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power

Thank you to Safe and Green Campaign’s Ann Darling writing this OpEd for My Turn in the Hampshire Gazette.

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I am very heartened by the signing of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 50 countries and thank the Recorder for giving it the editorial attention this news is due.

I am writing today about the link between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Uranium is the radioactive fuel used in nuclear power reactors. When it comes out of the ground, it needs to be “enriched” to increase the amount of fissionable U-235 in it. Power reactors need about 5% U-235 to work. But it can be enriched more. When it reaches about 80% U-235, that’s an atomic bomb. This is what we are so riled up about with Iran; they are enriching their uranium to higher and higher levels.

Many bombs use plutonium, either alone or with uranium. Plutonium is not a naturally occurring element. It is a by-product of the nuclear fuel cycle. Reactor-grade plutonium can be used to make very powerful nuclear explosions. In the hands of the wrong people, it could be combined with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radioactivity – a so-called “dirty bomb.”

All this is simply one reason in a long list of reasons to stop using nuclear power. Proponents tout it as “carbon-free” and an answer to climate change. In fact, when you consider the entire fuel cycle of nuclear power, from mining to production, it is a net producer of greenhouse gases. The radioactive emissions of operating nuclear power plants routinely pollute the areas around them with enough radioactivity to create mutations and disease. The waste from nuclear facilities is toxic to all life for hundreds of thousands of years. And then there’s the risk of accidents – think Fukushima.

Humans had the hubris to create nuclear weapons and nuclear power facilities without knowing how to deal with the waste safely. It’s been over 70 years, and we still don’t have a solution. The least we can do is just stop using nuclear power and get rid of our nuclear weapons. We need a carbon-free, nuclear-free future.

Ann Darling

Easthampton, Mass.

Citizens Awareness Network

Printed in the Greenfield Recorder 01-30-2021

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