The Myth of Dangerous Nuclear Energy

Between 1970 and 2009, there were several nuclear accidents or disasters resulting in approximately 5,000 deaths worldwide [1]. Many of these deaths were the result of cancers caused by radiation exposure. The photos and stories of resultant deformity and illness are painful. These victims are owed recognition and respect. Unrecognized, however, are the estimated 1.8 million people whose lives have been saved due to the production of nuclear energy [1]. While unnoticed, these individuals live all around the globe. It is very possible that one of these people is someone you know—a person who would have died as a result of increased air pollutants in the absence of nuclear power. If society is serious about providing a safe, reliable energy source to combat climate change, nuclear energy must be part of the solution.

Safety

            The most prominent concern with nuclear energy, and the driving force of the anti-nuclear movement, is a skepticism about its safety [2]. Despite often being associated with death and injury, nuclear power results in fewer fatalities per unit of energy produced than any other source, including solar, wind, coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric [3]. Notwithstanding the data, injuries resulting from nuclear power generation often gain much more publicity than deaths from other forms because they are more obvious. This has resulted in a skewed impression of the risks that nuclear energy presents. Harm from this form of energy is exceptionally rare, and when accidents do occur, the damage is generally isolated compared to global pollution from other energy sources [4].

            Unfortunately, the policy response to the few accidents that have happened has been to decrease funding for research and development, hindering new reactors from being built. This has resulted in reliance on older outdated reactors [5], increasing the risk of a dangerous event with each passing year. If more funding is put towards developing technologically advanced reactors, these older plants can be slowly replaced, increasing safety and effectively eliminating the possibility of future accidents [6].

            The disposal of nuclear waste is another major cause of concern among the anti-nuclear movement [2]. The waste produced by current reactors takes thousands of years to decay before becoming safe and must be kept in secure facilities. This challenge can largely be resolved by upgrading plants to recycle plutonium waste as additional fuel, reducing excess harmful material [7]. More advanced reactors, such as those using thorium rather than uranium as the primary fuel, would be more efficient and reduce the amount of waste needing long term disposal [8]. Thorium is also prohibitive to being used for nuclear weapons which could minimize the risks of nuclear power generation being used as a guise for weapons development.

Climate Change

            The most important reason to advance nuclear energy technology is climate change. The pursuit of nuclear solutions is undoubtedly the best hope for staving off the worst effects of climate change. A nuclear power plant produces zero carbon dioxide emissions [9] which is viewed broadly by the scientific and educated community as being the leading cause of anthropogenic climate change [10]. While it may be preferable to eventually have a future in which renewable energy sources such as wind and solar provide 100% of needed energy, that future is still far off [11]. Nuclear energy is the only potential source that can reduce carbon emissions quickly enough to avoid the more devastating consequences of climate change. It certainly will be much safer and more cost-effective than geoengineering techniques that may need to be implemented if society takes the time that would be necessary to transition directly from fossil fuels to renewables [12]. In this way, nuclear energy can be viewed as a potential mid-range option to aid in transitioning towards a society powered by environmentally-friendly energy sources.

            Advancing this technology ought to be a priority for climate activists. Contemporary progressivism generally prides itself on being driven by science and intellect. This is particularly true regarding the issue of climate change. However, when it comes to the subject of nuclear energy, it has cavalierly and dangerously thrown aside data and the opinion of scientific experts in favor of fear and anecdote. This trajectory must change if we are serious about preserving the environment for ourselves and generations to come.

Sources:

[1]

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es3051197

[2]

[3]

https://ourworldindata.org/what-is-the-safest-form-of-energy

[4]

https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/safety-of-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

[5]

http://theconversation.com/the-demise-of-us-nuclear-power-in-4-charts-98817

[6]

https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/x-energy-developing-pebble-bed-reactor-they-say-cant-melt-down

 [7] https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/fuel-recycling/processing-of-used-nuclear-fuel.aspx 

[8]

https://www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/publications/pdf/te_1450_web.pdf

[9]

https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/nuclear-power-global-warming

[10]

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

[11] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/ 

[12]https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/risks-rewards-possible-ramifications-geoengineering-earths-climate-180971666/


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Colton Quist

COLTON QUIST is a senior from Boise Idaho. As part of his studies in Political Science he recently completed an internship with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington D.C. and intends on returning to the east coast for graduate school. He has a passion for critical writing, history, and everything political. He loves to spend his spare time reading the news or off-roading but enjoys nearly anything so long as it’s with the people he cares about. ​

Latest posts by Colton Quist (see all)

Colton Quist

COLTON QUIST is a senior from Boise Idaho. As part of his studies in Political Science he recently completed an internship with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington D.C. and intends on returning to the east coast for graduate school. He has a passion for critical writing, history, and everything political. He loves to spend his spare time reading the news or off-roading but enjoys nearly anything so long as it’s with the people he cares about. ​

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