GreenYes Archives
[GreenYes Archives] - [Thread Index] - [Date Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]

[GreenYes] Uranium Plants Harm Ozone Layer - CFC-114
Uranium Plants Harm Ozone Layer
Kentucky, Ohio Facilities Top List of Polluters
James Bruggers / Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY) 29may01

The uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky., and its sister facility in
Ohio have been by far the country's largest industrial emitters of a
chemical that eats the Earth's protective ozone layer.

The emissions of the chemical coolant, which are legal, are blamed on
hundreds of miles of leaky pipes at the plants operated by the United States
Enrichment Corp. This year the company consolidated its enrichment operation
in Paducah, making the Kentucky plant the nation's only nuclear fuel factory
for commercial reactors.

The production and importation of the refrigerant CFC-114, along with many
other ozone destroyers, was largely banned years ago as part of a global
treaty known as the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act amendments of
1990. But the chemical can still be used in industry until supplies run out.

Critics point to USEC's CFC emissions -- more than 800,000 pounds in 1999,
the most recent year available -- as another example of the hidden costs of
nuclear power.

These include environmental damage during uranium mining; the difficulty of
handling radioactive waste generated during enrichment and by reactors; the
potential for devastating radiation leaks at power plants; and other kinds
of waste from the Paducah plant.

Other waste and pollutants from the manufacture of nuclear reactor fuel
include mercury, arsenic and cadmium, which are disposed of on and off site,
and hydrochloric acid aerosols and chlorine gas, which are released into the

Merryman Kemp, a member of the Paducah plant's citizens advisory board, said
she gets infuriated when she hears nuclear power described as
environmentally clean.

''I can cuss real well, and I usually do,'' she said. ''It really angers me
when they (nuclear power advocates) are not challenged on that.''

Kemp said she was alarmed to learn that the plant was a significant emitter
of the ozone-eating chemical, and that most of it is from leaky pipes.

''We don't want those ozone holes getting bigger and bigger, and more skin
cancer and whatever else they cause,'' she said. ''This is a matter for us
to study.''

Company officials said the CFC-114 emissions will be cut in half this year,
because the consolidation of the two plants means roughly half as many miles
of leaky pipes. Further reductions will come in the future as the company
plugs leaks with a new kind of sealant and finds a replacement coolant.

Nuclear power, they said, remains a clean source when compared to coal-fired
power plants with their emissions of smog-causing chemicals and greenhouse
gases linked to global warming.

''Yes, you do have this issue with (CFC-114 and) enrichment,'' said
Elizabeth Stuckle, spokeswoman for the company. ''But we are also looking to
replace this technology with a new technology toward the end of this decade.
Unfortunately this is a necessary thing, because these are the only
enrichment facilities that this country had. We don't want to become
dependant on foreign enrichment.''

Stuckle said the plant produces a ''potpourri'' of emissions and discharges
but operates within regulatory limits. In an investigation last year, The
Courier-Journal found that the plant had been cited three times in 2000 by
the state for exceeding toxicity levels at three locations.

''Everyone regulated . . . gets violations,'' Stuckle said. ''These were
minor. We have an excellent record.''

In the enrichment process, CFC-114 is used to cool equipment, such as fans,
as well as hot uranium hexafluoride gas that moves through the pipes, USEC
officials said.

The CFC emission numbers are found within the EPA's toxic release inventory,
a giant public database of self-reported pollution totals. In all, the
Paducah and Ohio plants released 818,000 pounds of CFC-114 in 1999. It
amounted to 88 percent of the national total of industrial sources, and 14
percent of an international industry estimate of all CFC114 emissions

Global emissions of CFC-114 for 1999 are estimated at 5.7 million pounds,
said Jim Elkins, a physicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration's climate monitoring laboratory in Boulder, Colo. However,
some developing nations do not participate in the larger, international
report, he said.

Companies are still allowed to produce CFC-114 for some medical purposes,
such as propellant for asthma inhalers.

While CFC-114 is not as prevalent in the stratosphere as some of the other
CFC's, such as those that were used in air conditioners and refrigerators
before alternatives were found in the 1990s, it still damages the Earth's
natural filter for ultraviolet radiation, Elkins said.

''Once you release this thing, it is around for 300 years. It's not only
going to affect your kids, but several generations.''

Last fall the ozone hole over Antarctica was about 11 million square
miles -- more than three times the size of the United States. Scientists are
monitoring the size of the hole out of concern that too much ultraviolet
radiation can cause skin cancer in humans and harm plants and animals.

''We expect the ozone to recover to pre-ozone-hole levels in 50 to 75
years,'' Elkins said. ''But there's a catch, which we are trying to get a
better handle on.''

There is a concern that global warming may alter chemical reactions in the
stratosphere to the extent that it may extend the hole for an additional
decade or two, he added.

Supporters of nuclear energy, which supplies 20 percent of America's
electricity, say it is clean because power plants do not emit carbon dioxide
or other greenhouse gases suspected of causing global warming. They also do
not emit nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide that produce ground-level ozone
pollution and acid rain, said Thelma Wiggins, spokeswoman for the Nuclear
Energy Institute, an industry group.
''It's unfair to go back to the fuel, and pick out one single (negative)
element (such as CFC-114 emissions),'' Wiggins said.

''When we say nuclear energy is basically a clean, safe, reliable source of
electricity, that is in fact what it is. The plants are clean, safe
non-emitting sources of electricity.''

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as much as you please."
Mark Twain, 1835-1910

[GreenYes Archives] - [Date Index] - [Thread Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]