"So whats wrong with going Nuclear," was what I thought was an innocent question to a friend, who in most aspects, I considered quite open minded. But it turns out that being open minded in some respects do not make you so in others. Nuclear power was one of these exceptions for her. I was astounded by an overall lack of understanding of the science involved, as well as exaggerated sense of the number of deaths caused by the industry.
I'm obviously biased in this regard due to my current academic pursuits, but what truly surprised me was that seemingly rational, educated people have made up their opinions based upon questionable facts and unsupported numbers.
The following is a few of the major criticisms that I always hear, along with my attempt at a sober response:
So lets start with safety. I would like to say that fear sells and in South Africa, where I live, I came ac cross an article critical of Nuclear power in one of the online business websites. This was in response to the plan by the government to increase the contribution of nuclear electricity in generating electricity for the country.
Now the fallacies in the article were astounding, and without delving into them too deeply, I came across probably one of the most popular exaggerations for anti-nuclear activists. These eerie sounding numbers parallel to the fear mongering that politicians use to scare their audience, and that statement is, "The cost of Chernobyl was 985 000 lives."
I have never heard of such absurd numbers for the deaths caused by Chernobyl. Actual deaths from the disaster was less than a hundred, with even worst case estimates for total deaths that can be traced to the disaster amounts to no more than 5000. This gross distortion of the facts is a common place among those who wish to destroy the industry. Now, I do not know where this figure came from, and to be fair, the letter did not specifically say that that many lives were lost, but this is the only logical interpretation a lay reader can take.
Chernobyl was truly a catastrophe, and if anything like that were to happen again, I would be the first person with picket signs campaigning to end the industry. That being said, I am so confident that something like that I feel no shame in supporting them. Modern Nuclear power plants safety standards are leagues above any other industry, and next generation reactors such as the now scrapped PBMR are designed to never reach catastrophic scenarios. Anyone will be hard pressed to find a higher safer industry
But isn't the nuclear industry secretive and hiding the true costs of going nuclear? This in one of the other claims that the previous article implies. This is another one of those thumb suck guesses that has no basis whatsoever. I will even go out of the limb here and state that the transparency in the industry is higher than with any other industry. Even a small amount of research on the Internet yields countless sources about the industry, and as anyone in the Nuclear Field will tell you, everyone almost HAS TO make their work public.
So, what about the waste? The nuclear industry is not perfect, and as mentioned by many people, the waste needs to be properly managed, and every day new novel ideas to manage the waste is being developed. But over and above that, the Nuclear industry wants to develop efficient ways to process the waste - not only because of environmental pressures, but because 90% of the fuel is re-usable. Show me another industry where the waste from the industry can potentially deliver 10 times more power than it already has. The safety standards of waste processing facilities are just as high as for nuclear facilities. Needless fear about it is comparable to people not driving because accidents can happen.
This is usually where I hear comments like, ,"Not, so fast - what about the environment? Nuclear isn't renewable or green" I will leave out the part about the "green-ness" of nuclear for another time, but suffice to say (for now) that it is comparable to any other so called "green" power like solar or wind. What I do want to talk a little about is the sustainability of nuclear. While it is not a true renewable form of power, there will be more than enough Nuclear fuel to power mankind for at least then next 100 - 200 years with current reserves and reprocessing. And even when that runs out, fast reactors can further extend the potential lifespan of Nuclear power for a good couple of thousand years. Now this isn't even considering truly exotic locations of uranium like from extraterrestrial sources or sea-water. If someone wants to nitpick about the non-sustainability of a resource that could last a couple of thousand years, they really need to consider why they are making such arguments.
In almost all respects, the Nuclear industry is one of the safest, cleanest and most sustainable energy sources available. This added to the transparency of the industry makes it the best option available. To be against it is honestly a disservice to society, both present and unborn.
A rather detailed rant on fission-based nuclear energy
By Siju Mammen | October 15th 2010 09:11 AM | Print | E-mail