THE NUCLEAR DEBATE: Embracing nuclear power

Nuclear power is quite a scary term. Most people have grown up hearing horror stories and telling tales of why this form of power generation is dangerous, while others can remember living through nuclear disasters.

Nuclear power is quite a scary term. Most people have grown up hearing horror stories and telling tales of why this form of power generation is dangerous, while others can remember living through nuclear disasters. The recent tragedies in Japan have only brought such apprehension back to the forefront of public debate. While we can cite a number of concerns regarding nuclear power, the fact remains: it is an essential factor in the future production of our energy needs.

We need to move forward and embrace nuclear power.

There are considerable examples inciting wariness that anti-nuclear camps can cite. The Three Mile Island accident in 1979, which was brought under control relatively quickly with the resulting radiation or pollution posing no environmental harm. In 1986, the meltdown at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine proved to be a significant disaster. More recently, the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan resulted with the Fukushima nuclear facility to leak radiation. These are all horrible occurrences.

However, in all the decades of power produced by nuclear plants, there have only been these three notable incidents. As it stands now, can we claim that other methods of power production are worse? Well, actually, perhaps we can.

Every day, power plants relying upon fossil fuels emit tons of poisons into the atmosphere. In fact, in just one year the average power plant that uses coal produces 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 170 pounds of mercury as well as additional heavy metals and other airborne particles that harm the environment and our health. Power plants fueled by coal produce the majority of electricity supply in the United States.

Carbon dioxide is a major cause of global warming, the climate change we currently face. Exposure to sulfur dioxide can damage respiratory health, causing a number of other health concerns. Mercury is highly dangerous and affects child development, damages the nervous system and may be linked to some forms of cancer.

We release such toxins, harming ourselves and our environment, as waste into the air every day. Harm from nuclear plants

can be easily cited because there are so few incidents to cite. According to World Nuclear Association, there have been over 14,400 cumulative years of nuclear power production. That’s a pretty good record, while people fall ill as a result of breathing pollution from fossil fuels, and global warming continues to threaten our future.

Nuclear power does produce waste—radioactive waste. The common method of disposing of such waste is storage, usually behind massive walls of concrete blocking the radiation, miles underneath the earth’s surface away from contact with human environment.

There is no nice way to consider waste from any power production. Though, with nuclear waste, we have the ability to physically locate and dispose of it. We cannot say that of waste from fossil fuels. Don’t let the myth of clean coal deter you. There is no such thing as “clean coal.” Methods to clean such waste are costly.

The notion that the risks of nuclear pale in comparison to that posed by fossil fuels has gotten traction in recent time. Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace is one such proponent of nuclear power. In 2005, Dr. Moore testified to the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the merits of nuclear power noting that the benefits far outweigh the risks, while being an environmentally “sound and safe choice.”

The argument over nuclear power has continued over decades, but however, may become moot in the coming years of advances in the technology. Most concerns and risks of nuclear power, such as those discussed here, are bound in old technology from previous generations of power plants—many of which will never be constructed again.

New generations of nuclear power plants with advanced technology lay on the horizon. For example, a pebble bed reactor is one concept being developed. This new design could potentially make the stereotypical “cooling tower” designs a thing of the past. Pebble bed reactors are constructed to operate at higher temperatures, making meltdowns less likely. It is but one of many novel designs that could help solve nuclear concerns.

Nuclear power does pose a number of factors to be wary about. But this can be said about any method of power production. No one form of power production will answer our needs. Just as wind, solar and other forms of energy show promise to meet those needs, nuclear may just fit into the mix. ?