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April 07, 1979 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-04-07

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Page 4-Saturday, April 7, 1
t7:' j~

1979-The Michigan Daily


The expensive costs of
shutting down the Nukes


/ 5 0 6LLY!

iwg .;
- YES!

Anti-nuclear activists are pointing at the
Three Mile Island power plant disaster as the
ultimate evidence for turning the tide against
nuclear power and shutting down the nation's
entire nuclear network.
But turning off the nuclear power switch
may prove at least as difficult, and as
dangerous, as the uncertain efforts to cool off
Three Mile Island. For to contemplate such a
move is to confront one of the more tragic
ironies of nuclear power: because of the huge
cost of atomic reactors, the industry con-
siders its economic commitment to nuclear
power as irreversible as an uncontrolled
meltdown. From the public point of view, the
monetary cost and radiation hazards involved
in "decommissioning" plants are still
unknown, though certain to be extremely
LEAVING ASIDE the kilowatt costs of
operating a nuclear power plant, as com-
pared to conventional power plants, let's look
at the cost of not operating them. It is far
more expensive to shut down a nuclear power
plant than a conventional plant even before
the cost of disposal of radioactive materials is
counted in.

420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Eigh ty-Nine Years of Editorial Freedom

If a t

of a nu-

Vol. LXXXIX, No. 150

News Phone: 764-0552

Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan

Human right
IT IS OFTEN the case that there
is a lot of hoopla when a bill is
passed but, when it comes time for im-
plementaton, the legislation is all but
One blatant example of this flaw
characteristic of local, state and
national governments involves the
city's human rights ordinance, which,
when adopted a year ago, was hailed
as the most sweeping declaration of
human rights ever adopted by a local
A short time after the law was enac-
ted, the Ann Arbor Human Rights
'Department, charged with carrying
obit the ordinance, merged with the
Personnel Department at City Hall.
Biut since the merger took place, the
new department has been scarred by
severe staff cutbacks, a lack of leader-
ship, and no apparent direction.
The ordinance was created to curb
discrimination in Ann Arbor, but staff
nmembers in the department say the
city isn't handling any more
discrimination complaints than it did a
year ago. In fact, the staffers complain
that the department has been less ef-
ficient in handling the complaints that
it does receive.
Department staffers blame the
troubles on severe staff cutbacks.
While that certainly contributes to the
difficulties, the real blame should be
pointed at our city leaders.
Mayor Louis Belcher, who has the
ultimate responsibility of seeing that
City Council ordinances are properly
administered, won't even acknowledge
the department's woes.
The merger led to a combined loss of
four people in the two departments,
resulting in a total staff of seven and a
budget cut of 35 per cent. But Belcher
insists that the merger has created an
increase in staff. "I don't see any
reason to enlarge the department.
Every department in City Hall wants
more people," he said.

s law ignored
Belcher said the budget cutbacks in the
Human Right's Department are- com-
parable to reductions made in other
city offices. Figures on departmental
staff and :budget cutbacks for fiscal year
1978-79 reveal, however, that none of
these decreases came close to those of
the Human Rights Department.
So here we have it: a mayor who
won't confront, the facts, and a City
Council whose members' inaction
shows they are just as guilty in their
lack of concern for the fate of the
There are several areas which must
be covered if successful implemen-
tation of legislation is to take place. In
the case of the human rights ordinan-
ce, from the time the law was enacted
steps should have been drawn up which
would allow for this crucial implemen-
tation. For instance, one reason why
the city isn't adequately administering.
the program is that - though it was the
subject of wide publicity when it went
before Council - few people seem to be
aware that the ordinance even exists.
Council must see to it that citizens
find out about the ordinance. A
"Human Rights Booklet" could be
created that's modelled after the pam-
phlet the city puts out on tenants'
rights. That way, people could find out
how the ordinance affects them. And if
the law gets this added publicity, then
Belcher and Council will have less op-
portunity to fail to implement it.
Proponents of the human rights or-
dinance called it a "model" in civil
rights laws. City government leaders
have another opportunity to portray
Ann Arbor as a trend-setting city: to
show the public that Ann Arbor knows
how to implement its laws and inform
citizens of their rights.
But the current trend, in this city at
least, seems to be to let such legislation
lie dormant in hopes that it will be
conveniently forgotten.

clear plant is expen-
sive, the costs of
turning the plants
off forever is stag-
This is because some 90 per cent of the elec-
tric generating costs of a nuclear plant are
accounted for in the construction of the plant
itself. Conventional power plant construction
costs only 50 to 60 per cent of the electric
generating cost.
As a result, for most utilities nuclear power
plants mean long-term bank finan-
cing-enormous loans that must be paid off
whether or not the plant ever generates elec-
tricity and profit.
THIS "FRONT-END loading" of the cost of
nuclear power, compared to conventional
power, means that nuclear plants are nor-
mally much less flexible in their operating
schedule. Any shutdown, even a short-term
one for inspection or repairs, is costly
because the lost production value counts
mainly against the cost of the plant construc-
tion. The monthly or quarterly bank paymen-
ts become due whether the plant is operating
or not.
The same is true, of course, for conven-

By Martin Brown
tional power plants, but less so. When a con-
ventional power plant is temporarily shut-
down, the value of the lost production is
largely counted against fuel that isn't burned.
A much smaller portion, of the loss counts
against the plant construction cost.
If a temporary shutdown of a nuclear plant is
expensive, the costs of turning the plants off
forever is staggering. This is all the more true
because most of the 73 nuclear power plants
in operation today are relatively new, having
come on line in the late 1960s or 1970s. Thus,
they have generated only a small portion of
the 30 to 40 years of electric production for
which they were designed, and on which the
utilities depend for a profitable financial
IF ALL THE nuclear power plants were
shut down today, the utilities--and no doubt
ratepayers-would nonetheless be paying
billions of dollars for them for the next 20 to 30
This inflexibility is even more true for the
90 nuclear power plants that are currently
under construction. Pacific Gas and Electric,
for instance, would have to pay off the entire
construction cost of its Diablo Canyon plant,
which is 99 per cent complete, without
reaping a single kilowatt of electricity.
This is why utilities will fight to continue
operation of nuclear power plants on line or
under construction well into the 1980s and
1990s-even when the predicted cost of
nuclear power- becomes substantially more
than conventional power. To operate them
may be financially unrewarding; but to close
them would be devastating. Thus, the utility
industry can be expected to vigorously oppose
a temporary or permanent shutdown of
nuclear power plants-not out of any romance
with the glamorous atom, but to recover their
huge construction expenses.
THE OTHER COST involved in shutting
down nuclear power is both economic and en-
vironmental. Decommissioning a nuclear
power plant may cost almost as much as
building it, and no one has yet figured out how
to go about it without posing serious radiation
hazards to the environment for decades or
even centuries.
The high cost of decommissioning results
because the concrete and steel of the plant it-
self-like the spent fuel-must be permanen-
tly disposed of. It is highly radioactive.
Neutrons produced by the uranium fuel
during the life of the plant pass into the steel
and concrete structures housing the fuel,
producing radioactive atoms of iron, nickel,
calcium and other elements. These elements
have radioactive half-lives of from two-and-a-
half to 80,000 years.-

WHEN A POWER plant is permanently
shut down, this material must be disassem-
bled, separated and disposed of in a safe en-
vironment for an indefinite period. An alter-
native method is entombment, by which the
entire plant is sealed off in a concrete tomb
from any human or animal access.
According to physicist Marvin Resnikoff of
the State University of New York at Buffalo,
who has conducted a study of decom-
missioning, radition levels'inside a commer-
cial power plant would be around 100 million
rads per hour immediately after shutdown
(500 rads is lethal to humans).
Because of the continuing radioactivity of
the materials in the plant, it would be
necessary to wait at least 10-20 years to even
attempt dismantling. During this time the
reactor would have to be carefully monitored
and guarded against any intrusion.
remains of how to securely dispose of the still
highly radioactive materials. As yet, disman-
tling procedures and disposal facilities- for
commercial reactors do not exist.
However, the small and experimental Elk
River Reactor, built in 1962 at a cost of $6
million, was dismantled in 1968-at a cost of
$6.9 million. The plant was tiny compared to
the $1 billion commercial reactors built
today. While it does not necessarily follow
that dismantling will cost as much or more
than initial construction, "the costs of
dismantling a full-size commercial power
plant . .. must certainly amount to many tens
of millions of dollars," says Resnikoff.
Added to the dismantling cost would be the
long term public cost of developing and main-
taining radioactive storage facilities, which
still do not exist.
The entombment alternative may be
cheaper, but less acceptable environmen-
tally. The Atomic Industrial Forum-the
nuclear trade association-has estimated en-
tombment cost at $30-$40 million per plant, or
about six to seven$per cent of a commercial
power plant's total cost. However, an entom-
bment estimate by the industry for a reactorI
in Oyster Creek, New Jersey, set the cost at
one-half of the total construction cost.
Clearly, a shutdown of the nation's nuclear
power system today would raise as many
questions and controversies about economics
and safety in the next 30 years as the
development and implementation of com-
mercial nuclear power has raised in the past
30 years.
Martin Brown, former West Coast
coordinator for Science in the Public
Interest, is science editor for the Pacific
News Service. He is editor of The Social
Responsibility of the Scientist.

' 1

C")? Z6*T

ca 'I

Health Service Handbook

QUESTION: I've been reading
the book Sugar Blues. From what
I've read, sugar is more than just
a cavity threat, it's a dangerous
drug. Do you at the Health Ser-
vice counsel people in the
dangers of too much sugar? How
often do you consult patients on
ANSWER: Although William
Dufty, author of Sugar Blues
(which is available in the Dental
Library on campus) makes many
comparisons between sugar and
narcotics and other drugs, it is
best to think of sugar as a food.
However, like other foods, it is
capable of being overused and
There are many kinds of sugars
(all of which are carbohydrates).

By Gail Ryan

sucrose contains no other
nutrients besides its energy-
producing (via calories)
ACCORDING TO Irene Hieber,
a Registered Dietitian and Direc-
tor of the Health Service
Nutrition Clinic, the problems that
arise from sugar are due to its
excess consumption, not from
sugar itself. She summarized
these problems into six major
categories, as follows (with the
notation that research is con-
tinually being done in this area):
1) An excess consumption of
sugar may result in too few
calories being taken from food-

day? Yet the equivalent in
refined sugar is a mere 5 oun-
ces." p. 164)
(cavities) result when sugar
comes into contact with the teeth.
Sucrose does more harm to the
teeth than fructose or other
sugars. Sucrose is also more
likely to be eaten between meals
or in a sticky form, which cause
more damage than sugar con-
sumed during meals or a in a
liquid form (which will be
removed or washed away more
readily from the teeth).
4) There is some evidence that

ce in the metabolism of the body,
contributing to diseases such as
diabetes or hypoglycemia.
6) THE REFINING process
(not only of sugar but of grains)
removes natural fiber from the
plant; a lack of dietary fiber may
result in gastrointestinal
problems or disease.
One of the ways to prevent
these problems is to limit the
consumption of sugar; this,
however, is made difficult by the
large amount of "hidden" sugars
in foods. If you are trying to limit
the amount of sugar in your diet,
you must take into consideration
all sources of sugar and not just
those in "sweets" (.e., ice cream,
cake, etc.). Foods such as ket-
chup, prepared salad dressings,
nnekn-,Iapitd eprnk ad alan nen-

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