Nuclear’s Environmental Injustice

It is long past time to defund and disempower the nuclear industry.

Its weaponization of the renewable energy movement has no place among those committed to unplugging the climate crisis that has brought us to brink of annihilation.

Speaking of annihilation, the birth of the nuclear industry instantly detonated at the expense of hundreds of thousands of lives. That does not include the vast lands, seas, and species that have been irradiated for centuries.

Before it arrived, its costs were already too high. The industry’s passing should be swifter.

And yet, factions in the renewable energy movement have normalized nuclear, as its peers in gas and oil — which imploded on 4/20, worth less than its barrels — finally expire in failure. Today, oil and gas are barely worth Apple, and sinking fast. The only thing that can save the nuclear industry is normalization, as its political and economic supports are increasingly routed toward actually renewable solutions.

But that is what has happened, thanks to (way too) many willing participants.

After spending decades falling off of the clean energy cliff, nuclear is trying to mount one last comeback before solar and wind inevitably take over. Although the industry has spent those decades vacuuming up hundreds of billions of dollars (and counting), it nevertheless hasn’t built anything new.

Its scientists and lobbyists haven’t innovated beyond the basic nuclear reactor, or nuclear submarines that shoot nukes. What nuclear sites still do exist when they’re not falling down are positioned too close to people of color and the poor, on purpose, or in danger of fatally malfunctioning in the rising tides of the climate crisis.

Speaking of climate crisis, nuclear power’s mainstreamers remind us that it is not the same as nuclear weapons, as they claw onto renewable energy’s inevitable rise like a life raft. The absurdity of that arbitrary divide is indefensible.

From mining to manufacture to weapons to waste to fallout, the entire nuclear industry has achieved permissible nuisance status for too long among academics and politicians. They rarely fail to duck and cover when you corner them on where the industry’s uranium comes from (indigenous lands, Africa, other non-white spaces). Or where it is sent when white people are done mining it, which is usually stored forever in deep, dark holes as eternally irradiated waste — until it isn’t. Or worse, further recycled into lethal munitions bombed onto even more people of color. Let’s add in those who live next to its faltering reactors, almost all of which are located next to bodies of water, as Earth’s poles melt, ever faster.

STEM heads in and out of the nuclear industry explode with relief whenever bipartisans hand out tens of billions of dollars annually, from an unsustainable Pentagon budget heading toward a trillion annually in funding. Routinely, that handout’s subject header promises to “modernize” nuclear, but that never happens.

And then, when it comes time to stand in solidarity with the non-whites whose motherlands scientists and academics are complicit in bombing and poisoning, over centuries, too few of them do so. Even when the vast lands and species being bombed are their own.

Speaking of nuclear’s lethal costs, actual lives lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki number in the hundreds of thousands. That body count likely swells into the millions, once the subsequent cancers and further horrors are properly counted. Radiation from America’s colonial weapons testing regime during the Cold War alone has been estimated to have caused more than 340,000 excess American deaths between 1951 and 1973. Dig deeper into radiation casualties in America — which has conducted half of all nuclear testing in history — and what do you think you will find?

Good news? Get real.

The environmental injustice of the nuclear industry is also a scientific and moral affront to those earnestly working to decarbonize, solarize, electrify and renew global infrastructure. Reversing our destructive practices, which define predation better than little else, is paramount. Restoring biodiversity and replenishing natural resources that we could really use right now to reforest and repopulate Earth’s annihilated habitats — so the zoonoses like COVID19 within them don’t blowback and kill hundreds of thousands of humans within months — is non-negotiable.

Because there is truly nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, now that Mother Nature has turned against us, the guilty and the innocent. We simply cannot, existentially speaking, waste any more of our precious, priceless lives and time on yesteryear’s obsolete death drives. We will die if we do.

Crunching the nuclear industry’s costs and body counts over mere decades, it becomes unequivocally clear that had we had channeled that much hard cash and human capital into wind and solar over the same period, we would have built … something, anything, way better than what we have now.

What we have now, ad nauseam, is a planet in totalizing crisis. And thanks to the resuscitation of nuclear, we now have more authoritarian personalities perfectly fine with manufacturing, testing and exporting more nukes at risk of destroying us all — with nukes.

Never forget: These wars, and their pollutions and predations, are always waged upon people of color and the poor. Now, they threaten to be waged in the name of renewable energy. That cannot stand.

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