By the Maven | All the news of the terrible tragedy in Japan has once again focussed the world’s attention on the safety of nuclear energy. Environmentalists are almost chortling over the difficulties the Japanese are having containing their damaged Fukushima reactor.
Well, I’ve gotta tell you guys, nuclear energy is still the least polluting of all signficant sources of power , and best shot at being the saviour of this planet for the short and medium term future.
Except for hydro power (and even that calls on rivers to be dammed and flood plains destroyed) nuclear power is the least environmentally disruptive generator of power, in its entire life cycle from extracting uranium from the ground to using it to fuel turbine generation, of all significant power sources.
The two big issues with nuclear power are the cost of building plants and storage of the radioactive products. Most large government projects run way over budget. Nuclear power plants are no exception. We need to properly budget for and build the true cost of generation of nuclear produced energy into the system. That is doable. It only takes a bit of honesty from planners. The honesty part is difficult, but the results still make nuclear attractive.
The issue that has everyone upset is finding a place to store the radioactive waste for thousands of years. When put that way it is a very frightening scenario. And fear is, most of all, what the environmental fear-mongers trade in.
Aside from the fact that some promising new technologies are being researched that may help dramatically cut the length of time for radioactive material to degrade into safe residue, I have but one question that seems to be crucial: would we rather dump our waste in a shaft deep in the ground or spew it into the air in massive amounts to breathe into our lungs? Because the latter is exactly what we are doing right now with carbon-based energy. We have turned our atmosphere and our waters into huge garbage dumps.
I would rather have nuclear power.
What about nuclear accidents? Well, did you know that no one was ever injured or even exposed to higher than safe radiation levels at Three Mile Island? So, please let’s not hear any more about the Three Mile Island “disaster” as an example of nuclear power gone amok. Now Chernobyl, there was a disaster–albeit it under a totalitarian regime that ignored safety protocol and refused to respond to early warnings.
As for the tragedy in Japan: if that were a dam that was destroyed by the earthquake or something like, say, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, would people react with the same horror? Nope, we don’t mind dumping untreated sewage into our waters, driving our cars with tailpipes pumping noxious substances into our air. But talk of clean and safe nuclear and out come all the neurotic middle-class comfortable citizens worried about nothing real at all.
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