3 Reasons Nuclear Power is Not Dead

There was a terrible tragedy in Japan on March 11, part of which has been fixated upon by the media.  There was a 9.0 earthquake, followed by a massive tsunami, which likely together killed over 10,000 people.  However, what the media wants to talk about is not the earthquake, the tsunami or the aftermath of that, but a nuclear power plant, where there were several explosions, that have yet to kill anyone (apparently, there was one worker killed, but it was the result of a crane accident, not as a result of the nuclear reactor).  Joe Lieberman, the failed vice presidential candidate and senator from Connecticut, was the first United States politician to come out and say that we need to put the brakes on our nuclear power program (as if there’s much braking that can be done to an already-glacial process).

Every commentator on radio and television finds a way to work into their commentary a reference to Chernobyl, the infamous nuclear disaster from the 1980s Soviet Union.  However, there are massive differences between the Chernobyl disaster and the Japanese disaster, not the least of which is Chernobyl was in the Soviet Union, which had almost no safety standards; and the Chernobyl disaster was caused by human error, not by a series of natural disasters.

Is nuclear power dead?  Has the political will to create nuclear power imploded?  Will nuclear power suffer a long and painful, radiation-induced death?  Here are three reasons why I think that the nuclear renaissance is not over, and why nuclear power should continue to be pursued as a long-term energy solution:

Nuclear power appeals to a wide range of people
Nuclear power has recently gained favor with a wide range of people, outside of its typical supporters (i.e. stupid capitalist pygmies).  Since nuclear power is clean—it doesn’t have the emissions of other types of energy and gives off water vapor instead of lung cancer-inducing smog—many environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Defense (according to USA Today) have been willing to consider nuclear power, if not endorse it.  President Obama has also said that nuclear power has to be a part of the United States’ energy future, so this isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat issue.

Nuclear power is safer than most other forms of energy
Contrary to the narrative of much of the worldwide media, nuclear power is much safer than other types of energy production.  In the last 50 years, there have been 64 deaths as a result of nuclear disasters (I know, because we keep very careful count of nuclear casualties).  If you include the cancer and radiation-related cases/deaths that have been attributed to the Chernobyl disaster, you add an additional 4,000 people to that fatality total.  Compare this number to the number of fatalities associated with other forms of energy:

  • Coal power plant workers: 291 deaths per year
  • Coal power plants (fatalities in general public): 64,000 deaths per year
  • Natural gas power plants: 55 deaths per year
  • Hydroelectric power plants: 182 deaths per year

Also, according to Scientific American, a coal power plant emits more than 100 times as much radiation per year as a comparatively-sized nuclear power plant.

So, probably better for you to live next to a nuclear power plant than to a coal power plant (if you have to choose).  Better yet, don’t live next to a power plant, and just use their product.  That way, you’ll be fine in any scenario.

Nuclear energy is getting safer and more efficient
Let’s face it… nuclear power is expensive.  It’s expensive to build, expensive to maintain safe conditions, and expensive to regulate.  In order for nuclear power to continue to be at the forefront of our energy production, it needs to become more safe and efficient.

In the research that I’ve done, the reason why nuclear power plants need so many safety mechanisms in place is because they’re so big.  A reactor half the size of a normal nuclear power reactor would not require nearly as many safety mechanisms.  A smaller reactor doesn’t need to be actively cooled by water; it can be cooled by passive measures, which are much safer.  Why build larger reactors, then?  Because the process takes so LONG and the process so regulated!  In order to get to a place where the return on invested capital is worth the wait, companies have to scale their investment.

There are new reactor types that are both (a) smaller and (b) safer.  In fact, I read an article about miniature nuclear power plants originally developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, about the size of a bathtub, that are meant to generate less than 50 megawatts, enough to power 20,000 homes.  Given their size and the fact that they have no moving parts, the safety concerns are diminished.  In fact, reactors of this size are currently used in educational facilities around the country, and students are often allowed to use them.  You can see more about this technology on Physorg.com, Popular Mechanics, The Guardian (UK), and find more information on the website of Hyperion Power Generation, the company that the Los Alamos National Laboratory has licensed to develop the design commercially.

I think that, when everyone comes to their senses, nuclear power will be around for a long time, no thanks to the hard work of the media, which regards it as an evil that must be squashed.

  • http://brocmiddleton.blogspot.com/ Broc

    I heard a quote on the news that I thought fit perfectly….

    “Nuclear energy is good when this are working right but when it goes bad its really bad.”

    Nuclear energy is expensive and potentially devastating; however it does provide relatively clean and abundant energy.

    • Bob

      Agreed. I think we can solve (and have been solving) the two problems with nuclear power–expense and safety. They’re now creating smaller (i.e. cheaper) and MUCH more safe reactors. I think its telling that the problems are happening in the much older reactors, don’t you?

  • http://brocmiddleton.blogspot.com/ Broc

    “I think its telling that the problems are happening in the much older reactors, don’t you?”

    I dont know if that is telling or not, or if it representative of the attention paid to the upkeep or warning signs that may have led up to an incident. Old things break down that is what they do, that isnt exactly ground breaking. However nuclear energy for now is a good source of energy comparably to the other options.