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Veteran Advisor

A Meltdown of Fear-mongers

If we drop oil exploration after Deepwater Horizon, coal mining after Chile and nuclear power after Fukushima, what's left? A world without nuclear power would not be risk-free or cleaner.

When Navy crewmen returned from disaster-relief missions in Japan to the deck of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, it was breathlessly reported that they'd been contaminated with radioactive particles from the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima.

A scene from the end-of-the-world epic "On The Beach" this was not. They were treated with good old-fashioned soap and water, and their clothes were discarded. According to the Navy, the exposure received "was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil and the sun."

What the reports missed was that these sailors were aboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a warship designed to sail into combat. These and sailors aboard other ships sail for months on end relatively close to nuclear reactors.

For more than half a century, the Navy has operated for more than 5,800 reactor years and steamed over 136 million miles without accident or radioactive release.

The radiation leaking from the damaged reactors at Fukushima is dangerous and poses health risks and consequences. But so does the fossil-fuel pollution such reactors replace on a daily basis. These are the "greenhouse" gases environmentalists warn will disastrously change our climate.

One can argue that the reactors at Fukushima were poorly designed or just based on an outdated design. As William Saletan reports in Slate, the reactor where the crisis began, Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1, is one of Japan's oldest — two weeks from its 40-year expiration date when the quake hit.

Saletan also notes that according to an analysis last year by the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, plants being constructed by today's standards are 1,600 times safer than early nuclear plants.

One can argue that the location chosen for these plants in earthquake-prone areas was faulty. One cannot argue that the world would be cleaner and safer without nuclear power. Between 1995 and 2005, U.S. nuclear generation avoided the emission of 41 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 16.9 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 7.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear power plants were responsible for 36% of the total voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions reported by U.S. companies in 2005. If we had built all the nuclear power plants planned in 1979 when the non-event at Three Mile Island occurred, it's likely we'd be both energy independent and Kyoto-compliant today.

All forms of energy production pose risks. Coal mines cave in, oil rigs and refineries explode, dams collapse. Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institute calculates that from 1969 to 2000, more than 20,000 people died in severe accidents in the oil supply chain. More than 15,000 people died in severe accidents in the coal supply chain — 11,000 in China alone.

Even if you count the increased risk of cancer in the aftermath of a reactor mishap — and Fukushima is not even close to Chernobyl — consider that the OECD's 2008 Environmental Outlook calculates that fine-particle outdoor air pollution caused nearly 1 million premature deaths in the year 2000, and 30% of them were energy-related. That was just one year.

We forget that TMI killed no one either immediately or perhaps even long-term. Chernobyl was essentially a Soviet weapons factory, built without a containment structure and designed to allow the easy harvesting of material for nuclear bombs.

If anything, overreaction to such an accident as in Japan might be worse than the accident itself. We in the the U.S. should ponder this as we reassess our own faltering commitment to nuclear power.

Case in point: Germany. More than 100,000 people in 400 towns demonstrated Monday against nuclear power. As the normally staid Der Spiegel noted, "German commentators have proclaimed the end of nuclear power as a source of energy — even as China and India reaffirmed their commitment to invest heavily in new plants to satisfy their energy needs."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already imposed a moratorium on extending the useful economic lives of 17 nuclear power plants in her country — though Germany, unlike Japan, is geologically stable and thus has little to fear from natural disaster.

That may placate Merkel's enemies among the powerful Green Party, but it will also make her country more dependent on oil and gas shipments from Russia and its gangster-led government. The U.S. mustn't follow suit.

Nuclear power, to the extent that it has supplanted the production and consumption of fossil fuels, has saved lives and will continue to do so. Heeding the calls of those who would shut nuclear power down due to a once-in-a-lifetime, planet-shifting earthquake is not wise and even more dangerous than Fukushima.


3 Replies
Senior Advisor

Re: A Meltdown of Fear-mongers

With Jeffery Immelt in the White House the nuclear plants will soon be spouting like spring lilies. The EPA has effectively shut down everything else.

Veteran Advisor

Re: A Meltdown of Fear-mongers

The only nice thing about nuclear is it  continues to have a disposal life of several century's----least if one had a commercial nuke dump site you could have several  generations of business

Veteran Advisor

Re: A Meltdown of Fear-mongers

@k-289 wrote:

The only nice thing about nuclear is it  continues to have a disposal life of several century's----least if one had a commercial nuke dump site you could have several  generations of business

You need to study up on the newest technology in the nuclear field.  Some of the newest power plants use a "cool nuke" process and some are working on using safe Thorium as the power source.   Thorium could one day be used in all cars providing decades of power on one permanent supply of fuel.  Just imagine, never having to refill your car, and none of the radioactive danger.  My brother is working on that design, right now.... I hope that he can also figure out how to make some serious money with it, as well.