I’ve never been a hand-ringer when it comes to nuclear energy. In fact, as a college student in the 70’s, “Reactor Park” – a green area next to our neighborhood reactor – was the place to play everything from soccer to football. Meltdowns never crossed my mind, and I didn’t wonder what I would do if one happened.
Today, I actually live about 7 miles from the same reactor and drive by it almost daily. Up until recently, it’s just one of several buildings that share a parking lot, framed in by a major street, the college campus and some tennis and golf courses. No big deal.
See, I’ve always felt nuclear energy was one of the good guys. According to a 2009 Washington Times article, nuclear power is the least expensive form of power available and has no polluting gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur or mercury.
Compare these findings to coal, which according to the EPA is spewing mercury (with a plethora of health-hazards) with every burn. “When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 50 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions (Source: 2005 National Emissions Inventory).”
And what about dams – they break; electrical currents kill…, and so on.
Nuclear reactors are also land-conserving. One double-reactor plant only uses a few hundred acres to power 2 million homes.
Wind or solar power often uses tens of thousands of acres. And, the resulting waste of one person’s lifetime use of nuclear energy would only fill a coke can, compared with all the tons of plastic, batteries, tires and motor oil in our landfills.
These are all impressive facts.
But mention Three-Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and now Fukushima, and they go right out the window. And for good reason. Radiation poisoning is a scary thing. Hiroshima. Nagasaki. Generations of cancer-related deaths – they all come to mind.
And yet, statistics show deaths from nuclear energy production is actually much lower, than say coal. China’s total death toll from coal mining, up until the year 2008, averaged well over 4000 per year.
Yet, we’re not scared of coal, even as it pollutes our skies, air and ground water.
The World Nuclear Association certainly wants us to say yes to nuclear power. According to their website, following the Three Mile Island meltdown, large scale testing showed that “less radioactivity escapes from molten fuel than initially assumed” and detailed analyses indicated that “even the worst possible accident in a conventional western nuclear power plant or its fuel could not cause dramatic public harm…, no-one need fear a potential public health catastrophe.”
Personally I don’t know what to think with a possible meltdown looming in Japan. I do know time is the major player in this situation and that the nuclear power industry will certainly face an uphill battle in the future.
But perhaps this recent scare will result in more oversight and protection; so overtime, this greener power source will elicit less fear.
Until then? Well, I’m giving my backyard reactor a second look when I drive by, and of course, praying for the people in Japan.