Letter to the editor: Lower the temperature by using nuclear power
When I was a kid, the nuclear age had just begun. Nuclear-powered ships were being developed, as was nuclear-power electricity generation, and of course there was the school air raid drills that had us diving under our desks for protection. Diving under desks, and nuclear power’s destructive potential, has created a fear of using this technology in many people’s minds. Yet, nuclear power’s safety record, versus fossil fuels, and the many positive new attributes of the new nuclear power generating technology warrant its further development as a tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
How safe are nuclear power plants? There have been two nuclear power plant accidents that are classified as major disasters, Fukushima in 2011 and Chernobyl in 1986. The Fukushima accident was the direct result of an earthquake and the resulting tsunami. Despite the devastation caused by these events the Fukushima facilities safety protocol limited radiation exposure. The circumstances at Chernobyl were quite different, as facility safety measures were sub-par, and as a result, radiation exposure was significant. Hannah Richie’s work in “Our World Data” will give you mortality statistics from these accidents. The data is variable, especially on the indirect human damages caused by these events, and depends on the organization that developed the statistics, but overall, fatalities, injury, and illnesses from nuclear accidents have been far fewer than those caused by fossil fuels facilities.
Wikipedia reported that a 2012 study by The World Health Organization indicated that burning fossil fuels and biomass causes approximately 3 million deaths in urban areas annually. Plus, with fossil fuels you have environment damages that have plagued much of the globe. A photo of Beijing enveloped in a carbon fog speaks volumes about burning fossil fuels.
What about nuclear waste? While the waste from nuclear power facilities can cause problems and needs special handling, I could not find any reported incidents in this area that has caused substantive harm.
Today’s nuclear power generating facilities are far different from those first constructed in the 1960s. They use less nuclear fuel to generate the same amount of power. They have much less nuclear waste, and there are advancements in facility waste storage. Today nuclear facilities are smaller and require fewer people to operate and less human intervention in the case of any emergences. The costs associated with building new facilities are also dropping.
Today, 56 nuclear power plants around the country supply approximately 20% of our nation’s electric needs. These facilities are low carbon and provide a constant source of power, something wind and solar cannot. Many of our nation’s nuclear power plants are scheduled for license renewal. Considering these nuclear facilities can provide reliable power and cut greenhouse gas emissions, let’s renew their licenses. We also should plan for new nuclear capacity. Doubling our nuclear-power generation to provide 40% of our nation’s needs will go a long way toward reaching our zero carbon goals.
Siting new facilities can be problematic. Recently Terra Power, a company founded by Bill Gates, announced they would build a nuclear facility at the site of a closing coal plant. Replicating this idea around the nation, closing fossil fuel plants with nuclear facilities, can help solve the siting issue.
Make no mistake there are risks associated with nuclear power generation. All forms of electricity generation come with issues. However, it is unwise to dismiss a technology that can add to our nation’s, and the world’s, ability to scrap dirty fossil fuel energy.
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