The president’s energy plan has called for an expanded use of nuclear power to meet our energy needs. It is refreshing that someone in authority is starting to recognize nuclear energy’s enormous benefits. The safety record of commercial nuclear energy generation in the United States is unsurpassed. Over the last 40 years, commercial nuclear power in the United States has harmed zero members of the public while producing 20 percent of our electricity. There are logical reasons for nuclear energy’s outstanding safety record.
First, the adverse health effect of excess radiation exposure is much less than originally thought. After 40 years of exhaustive scientific study, the International Committee on Radiological Protection has concluded that an excess exposure of 10,000 millirems or less has no harmful health effect. Compare this to the natural background radiation of 200 to 500 millirems per year and the allowable release from nuclear power and nuclear waste disposal of 5-10 millirems per year. Furthermore, recent studies of radiation hormesis show that excess radiation stimulates the immune system such that it is beneficial to health at levels below 10,000 millirems. People who are trying to reduce the radon in their homes are, in fact, increasing their risk of getting lung cancer.
Second, nuclear power plants were designed from the beginning with safety in mind. There is no possibility of a Chernobyl-like failure at any Western power plant because the designs are completely different. In 1979, due to multiple equipment and human failures, the reactor core at Three Mile Island melted. Huge chunks of molten core were sitting on the bottom of the reactor vessel until cooling water could be restored. The worst possible accident occurred at TMI and yet no harmful amounts of radiation were released and there were no deaths or injuries. This is a remarkable result considering that, every day, we accept deaths from natural gas explosions, gasoline explosions, the air pollution from burning fossil fuels, oil refineries blowing up, hydroelectric dams failing, accidents from maintaining solar panels, and so forth.
New nuclear power plants would extend the lives currently being lost to the air pollution and accidents at non-nuclear plants. Nuclear power creates wastes that are small in volume and therefore can be disposed of more easily than the wastes from fossil fuels, which are disposed of into the air and directly into people’s lungs. Radioactive waste toxicity dies off all by itself to non-harmful levels after only a few hundred years, unlike the toxic metal waste from solar panels that stays hazardous forever and never goes away.
Windmills kill birds and other flying wildlife that happen to go near them. Solar, wind, and biomass generate a pitifully small amount of electricity for their size. One clean, pollution-free nuclear power plant can generate the same amount of electricity as solar, wind, or biomass using raw materials and land area (including waste disposal) that is at least hundreds, if not thousands of times smaller. For this reason, nuclear energy is the most economical and environmentally benign source of energy available to us.
Increasing our reliance on nuclear energy would not increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation because the plutonium from commercial nuclear power plants is not pure enough to make usable weapons material. It is much easier to build a weapons production facility for this purpose and if a country wanted to, there would be nothing we could do about it anyway. Instead, we should turn our own swords into plowshares and reap nuclear energy’s benefits.
Nuclear energy is clean, safe and economical. We should begin to use it to its full potential.
Charles Rombough is President of
CTR Technical Services, Inc.
web site: http://www.ctr-tech.com
Phone: 800 – 524-9328
Fax: 719 – 685-3806