by Jordan Wilkerson
figures by Shannon McArdel
The United States emits an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is extremely likely that the rising global temperature trends since the mid-20th century is dominantly due to human activity. No scientific organization of national or international standing disputes this. Furthermore, the US Department of Defense has officially stated that climate change poses a serious national security threat. In light of all of this, the United States recently ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, which means we are committed to significantly reducing our carbon emissions. How do we do that?
Given that, in 2015, we released 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from electricity generation alone, and fossil fuels accounted for over 99% of these emissions, a great place to start would be to begin replacing fossil fuel power plants with alternative energy sources. The main alternatives are solar, wind, and nuclear. The first two are certainly alluring, attracting the investment of a lot of government money worldwide. However, they are also variable. The wind isn’t always blowing; days aren’t always clear and sunny. This isn’t to say relying solely on renewables is impossible or even unrealistic with some clever storage and transportation strategies. However, it is a challenge to replace the constantly running fossil fuel power plants with sources that are intermittent.
Ideally, we’d have a source that doesn’t emit CO2 and is consistently reliable; this is known as a baseload energy source. In this context, nuclear energy is the main alternative energy source that works. Yet, unlike its fickle counterparts, nuclear energy is subjected to hostile attitudes adopted by a number of governments in the world which restrict the building or continual operation of power plants. Fear for Chernobyl and Fukushima-type catastrophes exacerbate the unpopularity of going nuclear. The US, currently the world’s largest producer, relies on nuclear energy for 20% of its overall electricity generation. Yet there has historically been a strong anti-nuclear movement in the US, and the sentiment is still somewhat present today, as demonstrated by closures of nuclear power plants and stances held by prominent political figures such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In order to assess whether such notoriety is deserved, we need to learn about the physics of nuclear power and compare the statistics of its supposed dangers with that of existing energy sources.
What is Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy and fossil fuel energy have similarities in the way they are extracted. The basis behind running a fossil fuel power plant can be illustrated by examining a typical fire. In this instance, organic matter such as wood or natural gas is burned and converted into CO2 (see Figure 1). In this case, we change which atoms bond to each other and harvest the energy that is released when they reach a more stable configuration (as CO2). In a nuclear power plant, we are doing the same thing: extracting energy from atoms that ultimately gets converted to electricity. However, in a nuclear reaction, we don’t just rearrange which atoms bond to which. We change the atoms themselves, and the energy released is enormous.
How do the atoms change? In a nuclear reaction, the nucleus of the atom breaks into several pieces and releases an immense amount of energy. This process is known as nuclear fission. The nucleus we break apart for energy in most nuclear power plants is that of the uranium atom, specifically uranium-235 (that number indicates the total number of neutrons and protons in the nucleus).
To start a fire, which is an ongoing chemical reaction, we merely need some friction. Ongoing nuclear reactions do not begin so easily. To initiate the chain of reactions that supply us with energy in a nuclear power plant, we must bombard the uranium rod with high-energy neutrons. After we do this, the uranium breaks into two smaller nuclei (e.g. krypton and barium) and ejects several high-energy neutrons that cause more uranium to undergo fission.
This chain reaction provides a lot of energy, and the best part is that it does so without emitting any CO2. In fact, the only CO2 emitted due to nuclear power plants is what’s released indirectly from developing the construction materials! How does this compare to other energy sources? Coal power emits the equivalent of 820 g CO2 worth of greenhouse gases for every kilowatt-hour (g CO2eq/kWh) of electricity produced. (A kWh is a standard unit of energy used in billing by electrical utilities). Natural gas has a lower output at 490 g CO2eq/kWh. Nuclear power, though? A mere 16 g CO2/kWh. This is the lowest of all commercial baseload energy sources (see Figure 2).
The Problems with Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy isn’t all good news, though. The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is the latest testament to that. This disaster was a consequence of the combination of a tsunami and a powerful earthquake in March 2011. Although the chain fissile reactions were shut down automatically in response to the earthquake, the tsunami damaged generators responsible for cooling the reactors of the plant. Without cooling, the components of the core of the reactors can literally melt from all the energy released from these reactions. In this case, they did. Radioactive material was subsequently released along with several chemical explosions, which were initiated by the immense heat released by the nuclear reactions.
Why is radioactive material dangerous? To start with, to be radioactive refers to the fact that this material is actively emitting radiation. This is not the same kind of radiation we’re familiar with such as visible electromagnetic radiation from a light bulb. Electromagnetic radiation emitted as a result of nuclear fission, known as gamma rays, has 100,000 times more energy than visible light. Radioactive material can also emit highly energetic electrons (beta particles) and small clusters of protons and neutrons (alpha particles). This concentrated energy causes the molecules in our body to react in ways that can be extremely damaging, sometimes giving rise to cancer.
Radioactivity isn’t just a characteristic of the material being used in the nuclear reactor. Even in the absence of a nuclear accident, nuclear power inevitably produces dangerous materials: radioactive waste. This waste, composed of mostly unconverted uranium along with intermediate products plutonium and curium, stays radioactive for extremely long periods, too, presenting a major problem in regards to storage.
Putting Nuclear Power in Perspective
There is no doubt that nuclear power has problems that can cost human lives, but such risks are borne by all major modes of energy production. Therefore, the question shouldn’t be, ‘is nuclear energy deadly?’ Instead, we should ask ‘is nuclear energy more dangerous than other energy sources?’
Fossil fuels have a host of problems themselves. The byproducts from burning fossil fuels are toxic pollutants that produce ozone, toxic organic aerosols, particulate matter, and heavy metals. The World Health Organization has stated the urban air pollution, which is a mixture of all of the chemicals just described, causes 7 million deaths annually or about 1 in 8 of total deaths. Furthermore, coal power plants release more radioactive material per kWh into the environment in the form of coal ash than does waste from a nuclear power plant under standard shielding protocols. This means that, under normal operations, the radioactive waste problem associated with one of the most mainstream energy sources in use actually exceeds that from nuclear energy.
In fact, on a per kWh of energy produced basis, both the European Union and the Paul Scherrer Institute, the largest Swiss national research institute, found an interesting trend regarding the fatalities attributable to each energy source. Remarkably, nuclear power is the benchmark to beat, outranking coal, oil, gas, and even wind by a slight margin as the least deadly major energy resource in application (see Figure 3).
The nuclear industry is constantly developing innovative technologies and protocols towards making the energy production process failsafe. Newer generations of nuclear reactors, particularly what is called a pebble-bed reactor, are designed so that the nuclear chain reaction cannot run away and cause a meltdown – even in the event of complete failure of the reactor’s machinery. Geological stability considerations will also likely play a bigger role in approving new sites of construction. And although long-lived nuclear waste may remain dangerous for considerable periods of time, that timescale is not prohibitive. In fact, even without recycling the fuel, which would further shorten the lifetime of radioactive waste, the radioactivity of the waste is reduced to around 0.1% of the initial value after about 40-50 years.
The primary proposal for long-term storage of nuclear waste is burial in very carefully selected deep geological repositories. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was once a promising candidate, though this option was shut down in 2011 due to strictly political reasons. There is now only one deep waste repository in the US: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. However, this plant itself has faced some problems that highlight the need to research better alternatives for the Yucca Mountain repository. Unfortunately, the same sentiments that inspired closure of the Yucca Mountain repository have also inspired reducing research funding and preventing investigations of other potential geological locations. Finding a replacement for the Yucca Mountain repository is possible, but this requires greater cooperation between researchers and policy makers than is currently taking place.
Dangers associated with nuclear power are, in many ways, different from the dangers we face from other methods of getting energy. This might explain why fear of nuclear power persists and why the above fatality rates may surprise you. However, we know that nuclear energy does not produce the greenhouse gases that fossil fuels have been producing for over a century. Research also concludes that the more familiar dangers from using fossil fuels claim far more lives. Furthermore, with the advent of modern reactors such as the pebble-bed reactor and careful selection of plant sites, nuclear accidents like the one in Fukushima are actually not possible. When balanced with these notable benefits, the problems associated with nuclear power do not justify its immediate dismissal as a potential energy source for the world.
Jordan Wilkerson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Harvard University.
This article is part of our Special Edition: Dear Madam/Mister President.
For More Information:
1) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (learn how we know man-made climate change is happening)
2) Discussion of Nuclear Waste Disposal by American Physical Society
3) Six Air Pollutants Regulated under Clean Air Act (virtually all derived from fossil fuel combustion)
4) Comparing Radioactivity of Waste from Coal and Nuclear
82 thoughts on “Reconsidering the Risks of Nuclear Power”
This article does not address the real issues people have with nuclear energy and why they don’t trust it or want it in their backyards. The real problem with nuclear power lies within the people who operate it, regulate it, fund it and make money from it. For example, lackadaisical Operators running plants well past there prime without good inspections or knowledge of the material and component aging issues; accidents waiting to happen (e.g., Armenia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania). Regulators held captive by greedy utility corporations and parsimonious governments. The unknowing public waiting for some 20 years before a new plant can come on line all the while being asked to pay billions in taxes to fund just one of these things. Nuclear energy never could and never will be a good answer to climate change because the climate will have already gone to hell long before enough NPPs can be built to stop the process. Start this article with “once upon a time…” as it makes for a good fairy tale.
I completely disagree. The real issue, as with anything in this world, is ignorance. This article is informing you, with corroborated references, of the facts. If we were only to base our strategies on fact, instead of conjecture and feeling, we would move forward with much more ease. I am glad I do not share your pessimism. On what analysis do you base your remark about things going to hell before enough NPPs, as you put it, can be built? What is your proposed solution? Are you imagining the world covered in little windmills and solar panels. Do you have any idea how many of these would be needed to replace just one NPP? Run the numbers, look at the facts; I am not interested in anything else. Get the chaff out of the way and assess the risks. We do not suggest we all stop flying in aeroplanes just because one crashes. We do our best to understand why things happen, based on facts, and move forward. We are a resourceful and ingenious species. The latest pebble bed reactor designs using Thorium solve a great deal of the perceived problems of waste and safety. Research into nuclear fusion is moving apace, an will, perhaps in my lifetime, have a solution that produces no nuclear waste, completely safely.
I share the pessimism the OP express because they have time and time again been proven right with our current energy sources? What do I mean by that? Look to oil pipelines and how companies routinely run those.
Companies run oil pipelines with as little maintenance and integrity checks as they can get away with because it costs money to run regular maintenance. These same companies have even straight up admitted that they run their pipelines until they break because it is cheaper to spill thousands of gallons of oil than it is to regularly maintain a pipeline.
Now imagine those same type of companies running nuclear power plants. Imagine the corners they will cut for the sake of the bottom line. In a dream world where humans never made any mistakes and always went with safety over profit… nuclear power would be great… but we don’t live in that dream world.
We live in a world where corporations are literally willing to contaminate water supplies and kill people for the sake of protecting their profits. If we have a bunch of different corporations operating with the same philosophy, there is bound to be one that makes a mistake one day. And with nuclear power… a mistake means leaking radioactive waste or potentially making an entire region unlivable for the foreseeable future (Chernobyl). Sure Chernobyl could have been avoided… but it wasn’t and it has had a terrible impact on the environment and the lives of poorer citizens (Because that’s who is always affected by these “solutions”… poorer communities). Chernobyl was awful… and that happening at different places all around the world could start limiting our space and could destroy the environment for decades. The region of Chernobyl is still experiencing the negative effects of the incident.
While Chernobyl represents an accident that occurred because of a human mistake, Fukushima represents an accident that occurred due to environmental events outside our control. And again… the region around Fukushima is still dealing with negative consequences from the event such as an unprecedented amount of radiation being dumped into the Pacific. Radioactive substances are still being detected off the coast of Japan and has been having negative effects on the surrounding eco systems. This dumping of radiation into the ocean has been linked to spikes in cancer rates among some communities. Again… poorer communities are more affected. And as you know… Fukushima is still completely abandoned.
So again… the concern comes that these disasters are going to adversely affect poorer communities and kick entire groups of people from their homes. And while these disasters are not exactly common… we cannot say that they are 100% preventable. No accidents are 100% preventable. And the difference between a solar accident and a nuclear power accident is quite drastic. A nuclear power accident can make an entire region unlivable, have a negative effect on the environment for years to come, kill thousands of people, create a spike of cancer rates within nearby communities, kill off endangered fish populations (depending on their location), destroy local food supplies, etc.
Until we can make sure that is 100% preventable… the risk is simply too great. Especially when there are better alternatives out there for carbon footprint reduction, like solar energy, ocean thermal and mechanical energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, etc.
And to further get our footprint down, conservation and restoration of Peatlands. Nuclear power however requires it to be run perfectly all the time for it to work… and humans screw up too much for me to think that is actually viable.
I also agree with the OP for similar reasons as to what others have addressed. To put it simply… Nuclear Power is only safe if safety guidelines are followed exactly, inspections are frequent, maintenance is frequent, and no corners are cut when they are built… that last one is the problem. Companies are going to cut corners… no doubt about it. I can be sure of that because they cut corners on all of our current energy sources right now. That’s actually one of the things that makes them so deadly in the first place. The nuclear power plants right now may be safer… but they also have something to prove… once they no longer have something to prove, corporations will make cuts to safety in the pursuit of profits… just like they are doing with all of our other energy sources.
The difference though is that the stakes with nuclear are a lot higher than the stakes with other energy sources. Nuclear power produces nuclear waste… waste that has to be disposed of. As we already know… companies can’t be trusted to dispose of waste properly. When nuclear waste isn’t disposed of properly, it contaminates the environment and wreaks havoc on the biodiversity of an area… and can make thousands of kilometers of land unlivable for decades. Chernobyl is the best example of what radiation can do.
Your example of a plane crash is also not very valid. The stakes between a plane crash are very different. With a plane crash… a few hundred die. A terrible tragedy, but doesn’t happen very often. With the improper disposal of nuclear waste, thousands of poor people (cause NPP’s will almost certainly be built next to poor neighborhoods, not rich ones) will be displaced and possibly develop some form of cancer. And if there is a nuclear meltdown that throws radioactive waste into the air similar to Chernobyl (which was caused by something as simple as human error… something a lot of NPP safety models don’t account for… because they are made by the NP industry), research shows that will probably result in an increase in cancer rates across the entire country.
There is actually precedent in America for companies to run energy related utilities until the break and wreak havoc on the environment. It is a well known fact that the executives behind oil pipelines run their pipelines until they break and spill thousands of gallons of oil because it is cheaper to do that than it is to run regular maintenance. Those are the people who will be running Nuclear Power Plants. If they see that an option is cheaper… they will do that regardless of the cost to human lives. And with Nuclear power… as stated before… an accident can cause thousands of kilometers of land to be unlivable for decades and will disproportionately affect poor people.
Also… I think it is smart to be skeptical of the safety assessment claims that are being produced by…. the nuclear industry! Possibly… just possibly… they have a stake in making the industry appear very safe? Also, the numbers they have given us on the “safety” of these reactors for decades now have proven to be false. They said that any given Nuclear Reactor only had a core damage frequency of about 1 every 10,000 years. We have currently gone through 17,000 reactor years collectively. Given those odds we should have only experience maybe 1 core damage event… or none. We have experienced 11! There was at least one meltdown in the Soviet Union at Chernobyl (though there could have been others given the Soviet Union’s history of cover ups), there were 3 in Japan… all at Fukushima, one in Scotland, 2 in France at Saint Laurent on different occasions, one in Czechoslovakia at Jaslovské Bohunice, and three meltdowns in the United States, one each at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania), Fermi (Michigan), and SRE (California).
In the real world, the likelihood of a meltdown in any given year is about 2%… using real data from what has actually happened… not future prediction models from the Nuclear Power industry. The reason why risk analysis predictions have been so wrong so far is because they don’t account for human error as I have mentioned. Most of those meltdowns I mentioned happened because of human error… which you can’t predict!
And also… very poor planning! That will continue to happen… especially if these are run by companies. Here’s a quote from an article I read to give you an example of what might have happened with Fukushima’s design… speculation… but probably right:
“my mind goes to a meeting I can imagine between design engineers for the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant and their management. Someone asks how tall the seawall needs to be, and someone else answers with the question, ‘How tall can you make it within the budget?’ Such is my imagination. I think the sea walls should have been at least six or eight meters higher, the Fukushima Disaster can be attributed to bad planning (possibly due to greed), and that can be correctly called ‘human error.'”
Here is a link to the rest of that article: https://cleantechnica.com/2019/05/13/nuclear-power-is-not-safe/
Here is a link to the sites factual reporting rating (ie. very high!): https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/clean-technica/
I agree that we need to assess the risk and determine if it is worth it from there… using science and date… but the problem is… the only risk assessments we have are coming from the industry itself… and has history has shown… they have been very wrong on that! Until we get better more honest risk assessments… and a guarantee that Nuclear Power Plant won’t be run for profit because that would cause so many issues… I am firmly opposed to Nuclear Power… at least fission in my case. Fusion… may be better since it produces less radioactive waste, but we are not able to sustain fusion yet so all of the current Nuclear Power Plants are talking about fission.
Also, there’s the fact that some scientists think it’s a waste of resources to use Nuclear Power to produce something as cheap as energy… especially when they believe other renewables could be improved and scaled up to fill out the energy produced by nuclear power. I’ll leave you with this quote as an example:
“Even people within the nuclear industry think it is an impractical choice. ‘You can make a pretty strong argument that it’s really foolish to burn a resource that’s as special as nuclear energy making something as inexpensive and ubiquitous as electricity,’ says Arthur Ruggles, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee. By becoming more efficient and scaling up renewables, society could save the uranium for cool stuff like powering interplanetary spaceships.”
This smug little theory that people who don’t support nuclear are just not very educated needs some serious revision.
Having studied energy through Harvard, I can assure you I am far from ignorant and far from convinced nuclear is a sound environmental or economical option.
SMRs are constantly just around the corner, as are most nuclear breakthroughs. So much so that Professor David Keith at Harvard admitted that the running joke in the nuclear industry is “just five more years”.
So no, ignorance is not the issue.
Well said, George. I find it incredible that the anti-nuclear energy lobby base their views on fallacy after fallacy, a few of which are mentioned below:
Solar and Wind can replace fossil fuels (in 50 years’ time, partially, yes)
Nuclear is expensive (new designs have greatly reduced costs)
Nuclear is unsafe (it’s miles safer than fossil fuels and the 2 major “disasters” were caused by a design that wouldn’t be legal in the West and a million-to-one combination of earthquake and tsunami on an unprecedented scale)
I am researching the subject for my Journalism Diploma thesis.
And? Problem short term =/= problem forever
Notice how you never mentioned the US.
The US takes pride in their strong nuclear safety culture because they developed the technology the correct way, as opposed to others who tried taking shortcuts. We can thank our Navy and Admiral Rickover for that, as well as Oak Ridge’s scientists and engineers.
IMO, Nuclear plants would be better off under the direct supervision of the Navy, much the same way as hydroelectric dams are owned by federal agencies. The Navy has an impeccable safety record, access to the best technologies, a well-developed supply chain, and people would be more comfortable knowing that the owner is not in it just for the profits.
except when things like 3-mile island happen…
where no one was hurt. No one… except a public relations guy working for GPU who suffered (and survived) a heart attack. Brought on, no doubt, not by ignorance of the issues by reporters, but by the unwillingness of people to actually listen to facts and change their preconceived notions.
That’s cap fam where did you get ur info from
Examples of Nuclear Meltdowns within the US:
– Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania)
– Fermi (Michigan)
– SRE (California)
3 meltdowns in the US. 11 meltdowns worldwide (that we know of). The worlds reactors have been running for a collective total of 17,000 reactor years. According to the risk assessment of the Nuclear Power industry, a reactor would only have 1 core damage event every 20,000 years. If their assessment was correct… we would have had only 1 or no meltdowns… again… we have had 11 in the world… total. In other words, they were off by a lot.
Examples of Nuclear Meltdowns within the US:
– Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) – Nobody died.
– Fermi (Michigan)- Nobody died. Fermi 1 power plant repaired, returned to service, and operated until research (it was a technology demonstrator power plant). Subsequently, Fermi 2 power plant was built and put into service, and has operated safely ever since.
– SRE (California) – In 1954, the United States Atomic Energy Commission announced plans to test the basic nuclear reactor designs then under study by building five experimental reactors in five years. The Sodium Reactor EXPERIMENT, designed by Atomics International, was one of the chosen reactors. In 1959, some fuel elements suffered damaged, SRE was repaired and returned to service. It shut down in 1964. 45 YEARS LATER, there was a lawsuit alleging that some cancers in the region were the result of operation of SRE and other government activities at the Santa Susanna Field Laboratory caused harm to nearby residents. The plaintiffs produced an analysis of the incident prepared by expert witness Arjun Makhijani. Makhijani’s analysis of the Sodium Reactor Experiment estimated the incident at the Sodium Reactor Experiment may have released up to 260 times more radioactive iodine-131 than the official estimates for the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station release. The “260 times worse than Three Mile Island” assertion has been widely quoted. The “Three Mile Island” conclusion presented in the legal filing did not agree with data and documents prepared at the time of the SRE incident.
In August 2004 ground water under the former Sodium Reactor Experiment was sampled to determine the presence of tritium, which was undetected. In April 2009, the Department of Energy announced the transfer of $38.3 million to the EPA for a complete radiological survey of a 290-acre (1.2 km2) area of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The source of the funds was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The DOE had provided funds earlier to the EPA for a portion of the survey, so the total funding provided for the Area IV survey is $41.5 million. The survey was scheduled to be completed in September 2011. In December 2012, the EPA released the results of testing done at the site. The Agency noted that it took 3735 soil samples during the study and of those samples more than 10% contained radioactivity higher than background level.. Background levels. Low background levels. Nevertheless, a settlement to the lawsuit was reached.
pessimists like you, (I assume without a science degree), are what killed nuke power in the 70’s. just imagine the progress GE and others could have made in the past FIFTY YEARS, if we hadn’t listened to the ‘fraidy little girly-men who didn’t have the guts to proceed with technology that would have negated our current Global Bun Warming problems. I primarily blame the Union of Concerned Scientists for killing off nuke energy in the US. They should apologize and commit all their physicists and nuclear engineers to catching up to where we would be if not for their short-sightedness and outright stupidity five decades ago!!
You bet that people who are concerned aren’t scientists? Well.. Ivan safely bet that you don’t know your history then. Or at the very least choose to ignore your history because it is inconvenient.
Fukushima, Chernobyl, 3 mile Island are the often most cited ones… but they aren’t the only ones… not by a long shot.
Truth is there have been a lot of nuclear power plant accidents that resulted in radioactive waste spilling out into the environment. Not nearly to the scale of those three, but still enough to negatively affect the lives of poorer communities. Because… that’s who is affected by accidents at these plants. Poor people. Maybe you are so out of touch that you don’t realize that it’susually not the upper middle class or the rich that have to deal with the consequences of decisions made by the upper middle class or the rich… but improper waste disposal has been a problem that has been affecting poor people for a long time. Remember Love Canal? Not a Nuclear power plant, but is definitely indicative of the type of care companies in America take with their waste management.
Back to nuclear power, Fukushima is still abandoned and it is not safe for residents to return yet. The cause of the Fukushima disaster was out of their control as it was caused by environmental disasters. Off the coast of Japan, they are still finding traces of radioactive contamination from the accident. This is potentially linked to a spike in cancer rates among… you guessed it… poorer coastal communities.
Chernobyl was a disaster caused by human carelessness… you know what else is a disaster caused by human carelessness? The BP oil spill off the coast of Florida. Or any of the other oil spills running through America. There’s quite a lot of them. And why is that? Because American companies would rather run things until they break than properly maintain them. Is that speculation? No. The major oil companies literally stated that it was cheaper to run the pipelines until they broke and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the environment than to hire workers to perform regular maintenance and inspections.
And you want to put those same companies in charge of nuclear power plants? We haven’t seen many major disasters with nuclear power yet, but that might be due to the fact that it is still relatively new. We didn’t see many problems with the oil pipelines either for decades… which is how long it took for them to deteriorate due to a lack of maintenance.
So yeah… I don’t really trust companies to do the right thing and with something as dangerous as nuclear power… I’m not really willing to take that chance.
If you actually trust a corporation to do the right thing… you are either extremely naive and don’t understand how the world works… or you are a corporate funded propagandist.
I worked on, slept near, and operated a reactor for 20 years! You pussies think you know everything! The Havard PHD is absolutely correct in his blog. DO NOT COMMENT ON THIS THREAD IF YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE F*** YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!
Oh great… anecdotal evidence that ignores the science, nuclear proliferation and actual risks of nuclear energy… how profound.
Data shows that with our current technology and number of facilities, it’s literally a coin toss (50/50) for another Fukushima scale event occurring in the next 60-150 years… and that’s with the current number of reactora… start building more and the chance goes up.
“Under the status quo, we project at least one Fukushima-scale dragon king (or larger) accident with 50% probability every 60–150 years.”
Not to mention that Nuclear is far too expensive now and takes way too long to build a single power plant… or that every dollar spent on nuclear could have gone to other clean energy investments that could take a larger chunk out of our carbon footprint than nuclear for less money.
“Using the most optimistic of assumptions, completing every reactor under construction now by 2020 would add 59 GWe. Assuming the historic capability of connecting 11 reactors annually to the grid, the world will be able to increase nuclear capacity by about 20 percent over 34 years. This is nowhere close to what would be needed for a significant contribution. Doubling that production rate, under the most current IEA 2 Degree Scenario, would allow nuclear energy to contribute to just 7 percent of the required carbon dioxide emission reductions by 2050.”
Overall… any investment in nuclear energy is essentially a waste of money right now. Nuclear energy requires decades to get set up and see a return. We don’t have decades anymore. So even if nuclear power was completely safe… which it’s not as the other study has made clear… it is not a viable option for combating climate change. Other options exist and I’m tired of people saying stuff like “thinking wind and solar can power everything is a fantasy… but nuclear power can do it!” …. like really… you think we can quadruple the number of nuclear reactors we currently have in less than years… building them way more than we have ever built without, faster than we have ever built them, for significantly cheaper than they have ever cost? Without increasing our carbon footprint significantly during conatruction due to you know… having to power all the complex equipment and machinery to build them? And you think all that will be easier to do than figuring out a method to store energy produced by wind and solar (also… geothermal exists… don’t know why ppl leave that one out)? That sounds like a pretty big fantasy to me…
Shouldn’t be much of a problem considering the fact that climate change isn’t real and is honestly just something that is used by politicians to scare people into doing what they want.
You are a fool, and I am sorry for you and anyone who has ever tried to talk with you about the way the word works.
Sure, I don’t think that most politicians have anyone’s interests in mind but their own, but for nearly the etirety of the scientific community to agree that something exists…the chances are astronomical that they are all completely wrong.
Rivers are drying up in Europe and Asia, snow is falling less often, summers aregetting hotter, hurricanes are happening more frequently, the oceans are becoming acidic from absorbing CO2. Enough things are happennig to suggest that, yeah, climate change is real.
A study was done in India. It involved the baby teeth of children living 10 miles from the nuclear power plant. Scientists stated that the baby teeth were saturated with radiation. Just imagine, what unforeseeable side effects that presents them as adults.
Also, there was a study involving the potential danger of nuclear power plants being targets of enemy tampering, an exploding nuclear power plant can devastate the ground soil and water for generations while killing millions of people.
As for the coal, the Rothschild bankers were responsible for the fracking, which made the ground toxic. It was not the coal, but the present system of retrieval.
The same people , like Obama) who spoke about the climate change (hoax, as per 30,000 scientists) continued to perform deep sea drilling in the sea floor while releasing hot methane gas into the atmosphere.
Just food for thought.
This article inaccurately suggests Yucca Mountain was a political decision. Our colleague, William Alley, was Chief of the USGS on site and wrote in his Cambridge Press book, “TOO HOT TO TOUCH,” the cracked mountain floor leads to aquifer contamination below in event of any leak. Should a canister go critical, or simply leak, contamination would spread readily below the mountain.
The current cost of remediation at Fukushima is estimated at perhaps $2 trillion. Imagine that US has 100 aged facilities, many not even shut down, yet. Jordan ought reconsider why SC billions of dollars invested are coming to a halt, including excessive construction costs, excessive operating costs, excessive costs following catastrophic failure, are few Jordan does not address when wearing his rose colored glasses.
Full disclosure ought to make note if Jordan’s student loans were paid off by the nuclear industry, now on the wane..
Author here. My statement that the decision was strictly political is based on a report by the Government Accountability Office – an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. You can access the report via the imbedded link in the article. In accordance with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Secretary of Energy was specifically given the opportunity to state any technical or safety issues associated the Yucca Mountain site. No issues were reported.
Your second paragraph primarily focuses on the economic feasibility of nuclear power. Broadly speaking, I completely agree that’s an important part of the policy conversation. However, a full economic analysis is not really a scientific evaluation, so it’s outside the scope of this article. In fairness, the article is called ‘Reconsidering the Risks of Nuclear Power,’ not ‘Embracing Nuclear Power with No Further Questions.’ My ultimate assertion is that there should be a more sincere conversation about nuclear power because it does provide climate and health benefits (relative to fossil fuels), which are two important factors that weigh into whether society should adopt a particular energy source.
Finally, to briefly address your last comment: we’re a graduate student organization. As graduate students, we get limited funds from Harvard, but we’re otherwise on our own.
This is false: ” it is extremely likely that the rising global temperature trends since the mid-20th century is dominantly due to human activity. No scientific organization of national or international standing disputes this.”
Because there are in fact a number of highly educated people in the scientific world, not worried about grant money that firmly detest that human activity is the leading cause for any warming or cooling of the Earth. Furthermore, it seems your research is done poorly, and leans on the side of political fulfillment rather than empirical evidence gathered from all sources. It seems you skip right past all those that do refute the man made climate issue, to include the British Antarctic Survey, which shows much more is due to Earth’s natural cycles. To suggest that no organization of national or international standing disputes the claims is beyond dishonest, and borders propaganda. The founder of the Weather Channel, and founding member of this climate change scare has come out and called for a stop to this idea that it is set in stone that people are causing climate change. It seems there needs to be a history lesson on propaganda for purposes of obtaining control/power, and money, which is a tool to achieve power. Controlling industry through regulatory product is a great deal of power, especially if one can condense that power and control global industry. The means of production have been a target by those seeking power for a very long time, stretching back to recorded history.
I ask that you please reconsider the legitimacy of your source. Fred Singer, claiming that an “estimated 40 percent of scientists doubt manmade global warming”, had his research funded by ExxonMobil, Shell, Sun Oil Company, and other wealthy companies with a vested interest in keeping the fossil fuel industry alive (Singer is also known for rejecting findings from peer reviewed research). Such companies invest a lot of money into casting doubt upon anthropogenic climate change (through funding/influencing researchers to produce reports favorable of their agenda, for example), because it’s better for their bottom line. They are using the incredibly effective tool of spreading false information to make the public uncertain, thus undermining progress in climate action. If you will, take a look at the pages below. For a deeper understanding of how our activity impacts the Earth’s systems, I’d even recommend looking into an Earth sciences textbook. That would be a good source of information without much of a political slant.
“…firmly detest that human activity is the leading cause for any warming or cooling of the Earth.”
They may detest this reality, but that doesn’t change the fact that human activity is the most likely cause.
I am not a hater good job guys. You really helped me out with my ELA projects. Hope to see other great work like this in the future.
If ELA stands for English language arts, that’s why I’m here. IM NOT A HATER EITHER!! HAHAHA
Great article, and nice to see some calm facts rather than the anti nuclear rants with little or no perspective of comparative facts to support their views.
Clearly no one wants the nuclear plant in their garden but we dont want air pollution we dont want the radioactivity released by burning fossile fuels we dont want the ever increasing climate events which as you say is accepted to be caused by human actions although unfortunately so much misinformation and outright propaganda still abounds on this topic, hardly surprising considering the unimaginable large amount of money the fossile fuel industry generates.
If we dont want to use less electricity and reduce consumption then nuclear energy is our only real source of energy with the scalability to supply all our needs. The current greenwashing agendas induce us to install windmills and black carbon made solar panels with the hope that magical storage systems and marvellous new efficiencies will appear someday… 🙂 somewhat like 3d TV or flying cars it’s a nice idea but today it does not work yet on the massive scale required.
Nuclear energy works today. If we dobt change from fossile fuels humanity will not be around in 1000 years time or in 100 years time but of course neither will the people who make so many trillions of dollars today from oil and gas and who see no way to make even 1% of that amount from nuclear fuel or storage of waste.
Again… people don’t want it next to them because mistakes will eventually be made. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow… maybe not for a few decades… but eventually they will be. Because humans make mistakes… and beyond that we cannot control environmental disasters. Fukushima is evidence of this. Fukushima is also still not inhabitable btw and there is evidence to suggest that it may have caused an uptick in cancer rates in some coastal communities in Japan. So again… people’s fears are not irrational or unfounded. One mistake or one environmental disaster can kick people out of the homes they have been living in their entire lives for an indefinite period of time.
That’s not even taking into account that many accidents in the energy sector tend to be caused by companies trying to cut corners. On paper, nuclear power is very safe and most accidents are preventable. But reality is a little different. Those power plants will be run by an organization… most likely… a company of some form. In America, companies have a history of running things until they break because it is cheaper to do so (see practically every oil pipeline spill in history)… doing that with a nuclear power plant could mean radioactive waste being spilled into the surrounding environment… or at worse… a nuclear meltdown. If you believe that no company would do that because it could harm innocent people… well look to Love Canal and you’ll find that companies are very much willing to kill people if it means a potential cut in their profits. So… I don’t trust nuclear power plants in the hands of corporations because of greed. Beyond that… I don’t believe the risks are worth the reward because even if it is run completely safely… we can’t predict environmental disasters completely. And seeing as how environmental disasters are becoming more prominent and hitting areas they never used to hit thanks to climate change… I think the risk of an environmental disaster triggering a potential nuclear accident is only getting greater. Therefore I don’t see them as a viable solution for every city because of the fact that we’ve seen some of the worst hurricane, tornado, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. In the last century in the past decade.
And yeah… no one wants a nuclear power plant in their backyard… but you know who is actually going to get it in their backyard? Poor people. The associated risks will affect the rich and upper middle classes significantly less than they will affect poorer communities. So really think about how you would react if your personal water supply contaminated with radioactive waste. For poorer communities, this risk is all too real to them because they already have had issues in the past where there water was contaminated due to the improper disposal of toxic waste.
For poor people, the risk is simply too great considering how little extra benefit there is compared to other sources of clean renewable energy there is. Not to mention the fact that nuclear power isn’t even renewable yet. It uses uranium which is currently a non-renewable resource. If we want to reduce our carbon footprint, safer and honestly more viable options would be to invest in the conservation and restoration of peatlands while simultaneously making the switch to clean renewable energy sources like geothermal, ocean thermal and mechanical, solar, wind, etc. They might be limited on their own, but a combination of all these energy types could make a significant dent in our energy consumption needs.
Also, nuclear power plants take too much time and too much money to set up. It is simply not feasible financially for many cities to invest in them considering they won’t be usable for many years. We have to reduce our carbon output now… not 5 years from now.
Yes it is true that there are some cons of nuc enrgy but now you cant use your all renewable energy potential and ı believe that it is better than oil
So nuc energy ıs the best solutıon but for right now. At the future all of the countrys wıll have the potentıal to use all of theşr renewable sources.
Actually nuclear will outlast renewables. The age of renewables will end when grid operators strike repeatedly from trying to manage massive electricity imbalances.
Any event that causes nuclear reactors en masse to be unmanned is an extinction level event. For that reason they should NEVER have been built in the first place. All 500 of them containing hundreds of thousands of tons of hot radioactive waste. Any event that causes even a handful of these reactors to be unmanned would be an extinction level event. The entire premise for nuclear power is based on the assumption that nothing calamitous will ever occur again in the history of mankind. Really….
Author here. The estimates displayed in Figure 3 include loss of life from historical nuclear power plant disasters. Therefore, the assertion that nuclear power is safer than other mainstream energy sources is based on 1 assumption: that historical trends can represent future trends.
This might be a poor assumption, but it’s because nuclear power is expected to be safer for the following reason. Pebble bed reactors are a modern reactor design that passively cools. This is a contrast to traditional nuclear reactors, which naturally get hotter and melt down if they aren’t actively cooled – a feature that I’m sure was on the forefront of your mind as you wrote your comment. Because pebble bed reactors passively cool, even a complete failure of the nuclear power plant would not result in a disaster like the one Japan experienced with its Fukushima plant.
This is not to say these modern reactors are 100% safe. However, they are considered much safer than traditional reactors. And traditional reactors are considered safer than other mainstream energy sources as I discuss in the article.
The problem remains that older reactors are going to wear out, and require “hands-on” management to keep them safe, even as they are decommissioned, not to mention if some natural or political disaster causes them to become unmanned. Thorium is highly toxic, as well as being radioactive.
Perhaps, in a perfect world, nuclear power can be made safe. But it is the problem of human activity that we are talking about. And human beings are not always sane. They are prone to the self-immolation of wars and political cruelties. However “safe” nuclear energy can be engineered, the bottom line is that human beings can not be trusted to do the right thing.
this is way too political now
says the 5.618 yr old
Cool shit dude, really helped
Yeah, Thorium is toxic. Are you going to cut yourself a slice of some thanksgiving Thorium? I bet you have a hard time not eating the colorful laundry pods. Do you drool over the packet that’s in jerky packages too? If it’s toxic don’t eat it.
As for the radioactive part…yeah, it’s radioactive. But I have some bad news, carbon is radioactive too. Wait aren’t you made of carbon? Oh my god! You going to get cancer from the carbon that you’re made of! Your light bulb! It has Argon in it! Damn, guess you’re getting super cancer now.
So it would be nice if the element that we’re using in a nuclear reaction is radioactive. That way we can you know, get energy from it. Wouldn’t it suck if you put gas in your car but you accidentally put in the gas that couldn’t burn? Got any more half-ass arguments that I can beat using my very average size brain?
what the fuck are you on about, dude
Hi Jordan! I recently ran across your article and I am a current college student doing research on nuclear fuel and storage. If you don’t mind me asking, what are your thoughts on dry-cask storage and how it’s better than the cooling pools. Or any other things that should be important for a college student doing research about the topic?
*spent fuel pools?
With the advent of Covid-19 and the possibility for an even worse virus on the horizon… you’re probably correct. If an outbreak occurs and a majority of the trained operators on a nuclear power plant succumb to the illness… that could be a real issue and a recipe for a massive nuclear disaster.
People don’t really seem to ask themselves “what could go wrong and is it worth the risk?” With any technology though. They get blinded by the short term statistics. (Nuclear power is a relatively new technology so it is still really early to claim it is safe)
There is also the fact that the Nuclear Industry actually has a history of being wrong about their risk analysis. For example, they originally said that a nuclear reactor would only experience one core damage event every 10,000 reactor years. They have recently upped that to one every 20,000 reactor years. All of the Nuclear Reactors in the world collectively have gone through about 17,000 reactor years. If their risk analysis was correct, we should have experienced 0 or possibly 1 meltdown… there have been at least 11 that I know of! Showing that their risk analysis is way off and the reality shows that it is not as safe as they are claiming.
And this is at the start of the industry… when they are trying their best to prove it is safe! Not when the industry has been accepted by the general public as safe and normal… which is probably when the corporations would begin taking shortcuts on safety in pursuit of limiting cost and maximizing profits… which is what they do currently with oil, gas, even renewables, etc.
If we actually look at the data of accidents within the nuclear industry… we can see that they are mostly caused by one thing that the risk assessments produced by the nuclear industry never take into account… human error! And also, if we look at that same data… we will see a disturbing similarity between how nuclear power plants are run and how other forms of energy are run. For instance, the people controlling oil pipelines literally run them until they burst because it is cheaper to pay a fine and lose thousands of gallons of oil than it is to pay for regular inspections and maintenance. They violated safety guidelines to maximize profits because they didn’t care what happened to the people whose neighborhoods the pipeline ran through. If we look at all the nuclear accidents and what caused them… we can see a trend of safety guidelines being violated and leading to deaths… these are the safety guidelines that make Nuclear Power… safe! If they’re violated… the industry isn’t safe! The risk assessments don’t take that into consideration… they just assume the guidelines will always be followed no matter what… which has no historical precedence within the industry!
And again… that’s the industry’s track record at their most careful! 11 meltdowns! Imagine what they’ll do once they’re fully accepted and start looking for ways to cut costs!
Very difficult to say something is 100% safe. But is that really the goal? We accept every year that worldwide 1.300.000 people die in traffic accidents. (not counting the wounded).
Thank you for the sane reply
I respectfully disagree. I am a practicing professional chemical engineer working for a company that operates its chemicals plants on a partial unmanned schedule. Skilled technicians are present part of the time performing maintenance, quality assurance tasks, safety reviews etc. The process operates in automated fashion and with redundant controls. Process and supervisory controls available are better today than at the time of TMI or Chernobyl. Fukushima systems should have been programmed to shut down in all scenarios without manning. Japan has restarted 9 of its 35 reactors and expects to soon be back to a 20% nuclear power portfolio. Nuclear power plants continue to be constructed outside the USA so I think the question is whether we want America to be a leader in a world of safe nuclear power or to stand on the sidelines. In the USA, we have 800 GWH of nuclear energy generated annually (20% of total). We could increase this to 40% far faster than taking the miniscule amount of wind and solar to 20%.
With all due respect, what does your being a chemical engineer have to do with your opinion as to nuclear power plants?
Nuclear power is deadly, dirty, expensive and short of uranium in a decade.
The deaths from nuclear power are about the same per MWH when you include mining, emissions, wastes and use LNT and collective dose. Particulate alpha emitters are also 1000’s of times more carcinogenic.
The mining, leaks, wastes and disasters have exposed people to enough radiation to cause millions of cancers over 80 some years. The waste will be deadly for a million years, civilizations will fall, and the location and hazards of the waste will be forgotten to history, but it will still kill people who mess with it. It will find its way into the environment. Nothing human made has lasted a million years, homo sapiens are only 200,000 years old. But we with arrogance and hubris claim we can safely store anything for a million years.
This mining is some of the most toxic on earth. millions of gallons of water are contaminated, huge piles of powders toxic tails blow dust down wind cause cancers and deaths. Each nuclear power plants needs as much as 2 million tons of toxic mining per year to get it’s fuel. That’s 75% as much mining per MWH as coal.
Lazard puts nuclear cost 6 times higher than new solar and wind, the utilities are shutting down nuclear for solar and wind. Nuclear needs the very same reserve generators for load following and peak that solar and wind needs for gap filling. It’s how Germany and Denmark manage the most reliable grids on earth.
Grid batteries are cheap and profitable now and being installed at breakneck speed. They allow solar and wind to bid in the firm hour ahead market. In a decade we can expect a full day of storage enough to allow solar and wind to satisfy 99% of demand. Fuels from wastes will handle the small reserve fuels needs for the rare lulls.
Nuclear power will be short of fuel in ten years(assuming 10% growth in capacity).
The IAEA says that we will have uranium shortages starting in 2025, then getting worse fast.
Pub1104_scr.pdf “As we look to the future, presently known resources
fall short of demand.”
Fig 16 show the shortfall in 2025 and it going 1/4 of that 2050
fig 20 also show shortfall.
After producing only 2% of the world’s energy demand for only about 40 years. Nuclear power never mattered.
You mentioned the LNT model, which many have agreed overestimates risk and is not a perfect model. Also you seem to blow some things way out of proportion.
Also, solar and wind are great sources of energy but they depend on the climate while nuclear reactors can run without a climate dependance. And they just are not as efficient as they can be at the moment (solar is only like 25% efficient commercially). And in order to satisfy the increasing energy demand, they would need to take large amounts of land to compare which can also be devastating to the environment in some cases.
And you state that nuclear power will be short of fuel in ten years. We have about 80 years of fuel remaining and can tap into our reserves of decommissioned nuclear weapons as they are currently doing.
And how can you say “nuclear power never mattered?” about 10% of the US uses nuclear power and 70% of France does two. If you ask me, it seems that it is a significant part of the 20 or so countries who use it and it would take a lot for solar and wind to replace it.
convenient how you totally fail to mention nuclear FUSION reactors to produce electricity. negates your numbers on the limited supply of Uranium. imagine, if the Union of Concerned Scientists had not put the kibosh on nuclear power plants FIFTY years ago, just how far industry leaders like GE could have proceeded with fission and fusion reactors!
Do you not know that we still have no way of sustaining a fusion reaction?
Fusion sounds like a dream… and even though I am against CURRENT nuclear power plants… I would be much more open to fusion powered nuclear plants. But we just don’t have that tech yet. Or at least the tech to make fusion very reliable. I am willing to support fusion… but nuclear power plants are not talking about fusion when they refer to nuclear power… they are talking about fission… which is very different and has different consequences.
Plus, fission uses rare materials like Uranium… and scientists within the industry have even stated a good argument can made against fission because it is using such a rare material to create something as ubiquitous and inexpensive as electricity.
You’re quite negative then.
I agree! The way nuclear power works now will not fix our problems! The majority of the points you made about things like mining and supply concerns can be fixed if we move toward thorium reactors, which are also much safer!
The biggest problem with this article is its the same tired old false dichotomy.
We face the time to solve the issues of warming. We know coal is awful in many ways yet the nuclear boosters keep using that as the comparison. We’re not going to convert to coal power to solve global warming.
Coal power is now more expensive than renewables.
You might as well compare a diesel semi trailer to a horse and cart, when the future is the Electric Semi.
There are many issues. Hand waving away Fukushima with ‘but the improvements’ was being done from day 1 of the Fukushima incident without any real analysis of the situation. It’s the pre-prepared propaganda.
Nuclear is too expensive, Solar & Wind & storage solves the problem and at lower cost.
Nuclear is not safe, and the reasons why are generally not even in the debate.
Yucca mountain is not safe for a long enough period.
Al we know from this article is that coal has to go.
Author here. Thanks for the comment. I feel like I already address most of these comments in the article itself. But do you make a point that I’d like to clarify.
So first, glad to hear we at least agree that coal seems to be the biggest issue (from a climate and public health standpoint, at least). However, many of the issues I bring up with coal ring true for natural gas as well, just to a lesser extent. Natural gas is demonstrated to be both less safe than nuclear and more carbon intensive. These two fuel sources generated over half of US electricity in 2018 (https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3).
Natural gas use for electricity has been on the rise, largely thanks to the shale revolution. Right now, it is the biggest source of US electricity. So comparing today’s prevalence of coal/natural gas use to today’s prevalence of horse-and-cart use is pretty exaggerated.
Wind/solar, meanwhile, accounted for around 8% in 2018. We’d need to scale those up immensely if we’re going to get rid of nuclear power, which composed around 20% of electricity in 2018, in addition to all fossil fuels. I’m not a nuclear booster. I’m just acknowledging that issues with nuclear may be overblown by many and its benefits underplayed. Surely, we don’t want to dismiss a clean, carbonless energy source based on safety fears that don’t mesh with public health data – especially as historical safety issues with nuclear power are being remedied with advancing technology. I know you may label that as a ‘but the improvements’ argument, but I don’t see why it’s ‘propaganda’ to acknowledge that technologies get safer as we better understand how to constrain their dangers.
you must know the only way wind and solar will ever provide the majority of our energy needs is through the development of HUGE battery storage facilities. I do not know of any battery types, now or currently being researched, that don’t present their own immense ecological dangers when they are disposed of, or “recycled”.
Тхис инфо вилл бе греат фор тхе мотхер ланд
I enjoyed reading your article and found it informative on the intended topics. However, I think that the lifespan of nuclear waste was not amplified to the proper extent. Although it is a viable energy source… nuclear waste will last for 100,000 years which is likely much longer than human civilization. What are the ramifications of leaving these nuclear waste facilities unmanned years down the road? Does that even matter? Interesting dilemma we face as it is not a CO2 emitting form of energy nor immediately dangerous but the nuclear waste presents a clear dilemma both on an environmental and national security level.
lol. for people who can’t read Serbian it says ” This info will be great for the motherland” the writer’s name is “Stalin”.
XD, welp i disagree
This was a very enlightening article, and the main takeaway is that short-term safety issues no longer put nuclear energy at a disadvantage relative to other sources of energy.
If you are anti-nuclear energy because you feel civilization as we know it could end, thus leaving the survivors exposed to radiation from unmanned sites, then realize two things: 1) We already have the problem of nuclear waste, so this issue is not going away. 2) If you believe climate change is the most serious threat to civilization, then consider the fact that embracing nuclear energy will help prevent the very “end of civilization” event you so fear.
If on the other hand you don’t feel climate change is a major threat to civilization then just be upfront about it and admit that you have another agenda which causes you to oppose nuclear energy but push only for solar and wind.
My “agenda”, as you put it, is that I don’t trust corporations to follow the safety guidelines that make the industry “safe”. The risk assessments… which only seem to be coming from the Nuclear Power industry…. would have us believe that something like a nuclear meltdown is an event that would happen only once in every 20,000 reactor years. Worldwide, our nuclear reactors have ran for a collective 17,000 reactor years. If the risk assessment was correct…. we should have had one or no meltdowns. We have at least 11.
This means that the “safety” of the industry is being blown out of proportion by the nuclear industry… aka the people who have monetary interest in the industry succeeding. Their models are so wrong because they are either purposefully or ignorantly leaving out the one factor that causes meltdowns in the first place: Human error! If they are already lying about this… how are we supposed to trust them to do the right thing when it comes to disposing of nuclear waste? I certainly don’t… and my lack of trust in companies has historical precedence.
For instance, there have already been many nuclear accidents that have occurred because of violations of safety guidelines. Some of these were because operators trying to cut costs… and this is them at their most careful cause the industry is desperately trying to prove they are safe! Let’s look at how pipeline operators manage pipelines when society accepted them as normal. They would run the pipeline until it burst because it was cheaper to pay a fine and lose thousands of gallons of oil than it was to regularly inspect and maintain the pipeline… that’s how companies operate! Only caring about maximizing profits and never caring about how much havoc they wreak on the environment and how many people die due to their actions.
So… if the mentality that is applied by oil pipeline operators is applied by Nuclear Power Plant operators… what are we most likely to get? Accidents! So many preventable accidents! Accidents determined by corporate executives to be cheaper than prevention.
Now… the same type of people who made these calls for gas and oil are going to be the same type of people making the calls for Nuclear Power. However, there are much higher stakes with Nuclear Power as an accident could potentially cause thousands of kilometers of land to be uninhabitable for decades… possibly even centuries.
As of right now… I am more open to the possibility of fusion reactors than I am to the possibility of fission… fission seems too dangerous… and so far has proven to be too dangerous… and it produces a waste that is too dangerous to risk trusting corporations to do the right thing… something that they have never done. One may argue that we can help make sure that nothing happens with proper regulations… but since when has the US ever allowed proper regulations to be in place for long? Never… not once in our history! That’s a problem of money in politics, but if we can’t ensure that proper regulations will stay in place… even when people begin to become more comfortable with Nuclear Power… we can’t ensure that the industry will always be safe.
It’s amazing that nuclear power has the lowest CO2 of all commercial energy sources because I had no idea it was so much cleaner. They’re thinking of building a nuclear plant near our city. I’m doing more research so I know the pros and cons.
Ah I see your a person of reason! These are rare! Hope the research goes well!
” The wind isn’t always blowing; days aren’t always clear and sunny. ”
Sigh ! Do serious people still think like this ?
The main problem is not about making enough energy from wind and sun, and others such as tidal energy and hydro energy, it is storage of that energy. The author pays only lip service to this : ” This isn’t to say relying solely on renewables is impossible or even unrealistic with some clever storage and transportation strategies. ”
A twin approach would consider firstly to reduce consumption rather than continuously and blindly try to address “consumer demand”, and secondly concentrating a large amount of research effort on energy storage. My carbon footprint in Japan is tiny compared to my brother in north America; people in high energy-consuming countries need to become far more efficient. Indeed, the lack of even simple wall and roof insulation in many houses in north America belies belief. Don’t forget that for the third quarter last year the UK managed to reach over 50% contribution to the energy network by renewable systems. So it is possible.
Other considerations regarding different approaches to energy should include the amount of fossil fuel energy required to establish non-fossil fuel systems. Nuclear power stations require enormous amounts of fossil fuel energy to build and a certain amount to maintain; hydropower systems also have a huge initial fossil fuel energy requirement; wind power systems too, but to a lesser extent. How efficient are these systems if the initial non-renewable energy requirement is factored into the lifetime of the system? For solar power, particularly individual house systems, it might be possible ultimately to build solar power units using just solar power as the energy source, especially if structural metals become redundant, but highly doubtful if that can be done for other systems.
The world already has highly imaginative engineers; the problem is that they are not supported enough for their research by governments. Several non-renewable systems are already highly productive, but storing that energy is the bottleneck. This is where we need far more research.
Perhaps I am sensitive to problems with nuclear power, considering I have been close to three nuclear disasters in my life, proximity to Windscale in the UK in 1957 (age 6), downwind of Chernobyl in 1986, and also not far west of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, all the same it seems to me that persistence in pursuing nuclear power as the answer to our energy requirement problems and also arguing that it is therefore a means to reduce CO2 input from human activity is immensely naiive, and ignores some pretty major negatives.
“Several non-renewable systems are already highly productive …. ” should be
“Several renewable systems are already highly productive …. “
This statistc puts terrawatt per year in relation to a deathtoll? Well how much terrawatt is each energysource able to produce in a year? Wont this influence the count? And did they also count the people who died or later got sick because of the incidents? Of course fossil energy is terrible for the environment, thats no question.
Nuclear energy is a double-edged sword. It is important to limit and control it.
Key word here being “control”… something that will most likely never be done properly given our track record on “controlling” other industries.
People seem to forget that Oil Pipelines were also touted as being “extremely safe” and “so safe, there will rarely ever be any accidents”! We all know that wasn’t true since pipelines have begun bursting at a rate of more than once per day across the entire US and have led to some of our worst disasters… because the people running the pipelines cared more about profits and it was cheaper to run the pipeline until it bursts and spills thousands of gallons of oil than it is to run regular inspections and maintenance.
This is our legacy of “controlling” things… allowing corporations to do whatever they want in the pursuit of profits… imagine those accidents… but with nuclear waste disposal… yeah. The factors they don’t tell you about and don’t consider in the risk assessments: human error and greed!
Why don’t we avoid bias, ignorance, and prejudice? This matter should rely on science. Then, the politicians would have to decide on whether to pursue with the nuclear option, bearing in mind that time is of essence. A somewhat similar process was recently taken in regards to Covid, in spite of naysayers.
There are plenty of scientific organizations that refute the “global warming” theory, and they do it with science. I’m not as certain that the supporters support their cause via science, but my actual point here is the very obvious lie at the beginning of the article. It does not take much effort to uncover that there is a disagreement over whether global warming is real. That point stops me from bothering to take the author seriously, or even continue reading beyond the opening sentences.
My Comment only pertains or is directed at those that failed to read what was written by the original Author:
Follow the Science and practice Critical thinking .
So we all drive electric cars use solar energy and heat pumps for heating and cooling and yet many didn’t read that Solar. Wind. and using the earths temperature all result in unintended consequences along with falling way short of resolving the problem. Is anyone addressing these? Not that I have read and yet people trust the politicians and large companies that produce and profit from all these alternate forms of energy except Atomic. Japan built there reactor on an ocean (unbelievable) .Ever been to a town hall meeting near a large city where inhabits decide to migrate and cut down woodland at an alarming rate? While many homes in those same area’s are in for closure or For Sale. I dont know the answer here But if you think its solar read dangerous battery storage n disposal … Wind Mills that are Placed across leveled mountain tops ect. If you believe our career politicians or the Commercial news as your news and information source. I feel sad for you. I will surely get blasted by many on here as did the author who unlike if not all others actually cited checkable facts. Reread what was written by him. Think it thru logically even if solar and wind could equal the potential of Nuclear Power the associated issues are currently huge. Mean while Im betting many (not all) of you drive large inefficient vehicles and or have gone to battery operated cars/ trucks….that have yet to be shown not to create additional issues. Ask those that have gone with solar panels how much they save…vs the actual cost. I dont claim to have the answers. However Im not disagreeing with what was written. And backed by data. To fix the corporate world we need to sentence the executives that make decisions that cost many life’s in jail for Life … Think about lives lost due to opioid abuse. They are mass murders pure and simple and yes putting one in jail wouldn’t change anything continuing to put the hundreds that sacrifice life’s for profit will change them. Hard jail time in general population. With other Mass Murders . The opioid execs killed more people and I will guess here than all convicted mass murders by many multiples. End of my unorganized rant…
Happy reading (or not) !
Quote: Paragraph –
“The nuclear industry is constantly developing innovative technologies and protocols towards making the energy production process failsafe. Newer generations of nuclear reactors, particularly what is called a pebble-bed reactor, are designed so that the nuclear chain reaction cannot run away and cause a meltdown – even in the event of complete failure of the reactor’s machinery. Geological stability considerations will also likely play a bigger role in approving new sites of construction. And although long-lived nuclear waste may remain dangerous for considerable periods of time, that timescale is not prohibitive. In fact, even without recycling the fuel, which would further shorten the lifetime of radioactive waste, the radioactivity of the waste is reduced to around 0.1% of the initial value after about 40-50 years”
Comments: How can anyone make such statements? I guess a chemistry PhD candidate (Jordan Wilkerson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Harvard University) did in fact posted this. I’m concerned and won’t be consulting him for any balancing of any chemistry equations in the future. How much disinformation and misinformation that are communicate globally about nuclear waste? I wonder. Learning everyday.
Quote no. 2: Recycling nuclear fuel – misinformation and disinformation (Objectively)
“In fact, even without recycling the fuel, which would further shorten the lifetime of radioactive waste, the radioactivity of the waste is reduced to around 0.1% of the initial value after about 40-50 years”
I am completely appalled by this statement and is completely false. I guess someone from Harvard wrote this so that the public reading it remain oblivious and just because a Harvard student wrote it, it must be credible, correct & true, right? NO (Objectively). It only demonstrates that some PhD candidates forgot to fact check scientific information (Objectively). This is worrisome.
Quote no.3: An eloquent statement (objectively)
One statement is correct however, and I may add this quote as an eloquent statement:
“Geological stability considerations will also likely play a bigger role in approving new sites of construction”
What happened with CNL considering a site (in Renfrew, ON) at a base of a mountain in their (Environmental Impact Statement Study) specifically in a seismic active geological structure? Objectively, I conclude that the environmental impact statement study did not explain fully all of the evidence and critical information about seismic risks in Renfrew ON and specifically in the selection process.
These are my opinions (objectively).
I would never recommend a site for nuclear waste infrastructure (at surface) in a seismic active region (Objectively).
Simon J Daigle, B.Sc., M.Sc., M.Sc (A)
Occupational / Industrial Hygienist, Toxicologist (Solvent exposures – hydrocarbons)
Air quality (Tropospheric Ozone) / Climate Change Expert
Epidemiologist (Communicable and non-communicable diseases)
Climatologist & geophysicist (geothermal energy)
bruh im just here for my physics assessment yous are having a full on scientific debate in the comments….
if the harvard degree dude wants to help me with my math lmk ill give u my number lmao
First, no gendered name-calling (“girly-men” & “pussies” come to mind). As a woman, I find this highly offensive and objectionable. (I always wonder why some men resort to this and why women as a gender are so threatening to these men. Hmmm…) As preschool teachers often advise their young charges, use your words (not your insults).
Anyone who still remembers high school chemistry and physics should be able to understand this concept: highly radioactive materials have a very, very long half-life and their waste cannot be easily or safely disposed of. You don’t have to be a genius to know that nuclear power is unsafe at any speed (to borrow a phrase from Ralph Nader).
And all of the posters who disregard the poorest among us, you all need to get out more and experience the real world, where poor people and POC are dis-proportionally affected by energy/power plant explosions and climate disasters. Do I need to remind anyone of the heavy burden that Hurricane Katrina caused in poorer neighborhoods?
Never ever forget the reality of Love Canal, Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Alaska, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Humans make mistakes, humans cause harm, humans get greedy, humans cannot adequately plan for and mitigate natural disasters. “Hidden costs” is not just a phrase used in economics textbooks: they are the real injuries that people living in or near heavy industrial activity sustain.
Nuclear power is just bad science, bad engineering, bad planning.
Do you know what a joke is? Nerdista?
bruh who here is actually qualified?
Me just kidding I am not a Harvard student. I would be a good one but this was good for my project thanks for this essay.
I have been doing research for an essay and I found this article very helpful. Jordan does a great job of summarizing the evidence and the studies done by the various research groups. Though I don’t think the author meant for the article to be a persuasive argument for/against nuclear (if I’m wrong Jordan, please correct me). I found the ongoing comments debate to be sort of helpful as well, but a bit opinionated at some points. I never quite understood why some people are so scared of nuclear plants, but now I think I get it.
I get my power from such a plant (I can actually see it from my house) and have always wondered about how it works and affects my area. Thank you for writing this article. Out of all the research I’ve done thus far, this was the biggest help. I am definitely going to cite it!