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The Case for Nuclear Power

When you think of nuclear reactors, do you think of the Chernobyl disaster or the Three Mile Island accident?

Nuclear power has gotten a lot of bad rap (deservedly, actually) but given the advances in safety and the ever-growing need for energy, should we reconsider nukes? Dan Hinge of Environmental Graffiti writes:

The WHO at the time estimated that the blast caused less than 50 direct deaths. About 600,000 people were deemed to have been seriously exposed to radiation, of whom it was estimated that 4,000 would die of cancer over the course of their lives as a result of the explosion at Chernobyl. The figures are horrific. However, to put them in perspective, based on UN estimates from 2001-2004, during this period one person would die of starvation every second. That’s nearly 4,000 an hour [2].

Worryingly, with an urgent need for carbon emissions to be cut and a sustainable and cost-effective source of energy desperately needing to be found, Chernobyl is still cited as a reason not to invest in nuclear power. It is true that Chernobyl is not the only accident that has occurred at nuclear power plants: accidents at Three Mile Island in the US and Windscale in the UK both caused small releases of radioactive material, but no deaths resulted. As one commenter pointed out, TMI was the worst nuclear disaster in US history; and yet it led to no injury or death and almost no environmental damage. That was 30 years ago [3].



Look, nobody's going to argue that Chernobyl was a disaster.

But Three Mile Island leaked less radiation than a typical x-ray machine. the US Navy has been running nuclear reactors, tiny portable ones, hundreds of them, for 50 years without incident. France has been running an entire network of nuclear power plants without incident.

Moreover, the realistic alternatives to nuclear for generating base-load are either a radiation-emitting, miner-killing coal plant, or the limited-availability natural gas plant. We can't build dams anymore. "Green" power sources, while I agree we should be building as much as possible, can't provide the base load needed to keep the grid operating.

If you say "deservedly", you're already under the thrall of Greenpeace's ridiculous propaganda.
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Good thing the airline industry was never put under the same scrutiny - otherwise there'd be no air travel.

Nuclear Power, at least for the near future, is pretty much the only hope for solving the upcoming energy crisis.

Biofuel is a joke (why can't treehuggers and politicians do simple math?).

Wind/Solar/Water power would require a massive buildout - costing lots and lots of money - and only cover a fraction of the energy needs - and then there's all the "not in my backyard/scenic vista/coastline" whiners, not to mention the birds (think of the poor birdies).

So nuke us baby - it's our only hope.
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What nonsense. TMI leaked a lot more than an x-ray machine. And wasn't off-shore drilling supposed to be so much safer because of all these wonderful technological advances? And what do you want to do with the waste? Get real, kiddies. Nuclear power is a very dirty business--and I'm not talking about the radiation. So stop spewing corporate propaganda.
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nuclear power is extremely safe. the biggest problem with Chernobyl is the way it was handled by the plant staff and the Soviet government. the firefighters that arrived weren't even told it was a reactor meltdown, and went in without proper equipment. in an attempt to provide some sort of coverup, the nearby towns weren't even notified or evacuated until a full 24 hours later, when radiation sensors in Sweden (over 1000 miles way) went off. the USSR tried to cover up the whole thing at first, and endangered the lives of tens of thousands of people. not only that, but the tests being performed that led up to the meltdown were known to be unsafe and weren't even supposed to happen.

as for Three Mile Island, there have never been any deaths or sickness in or around the plant that have ever been attributable to the partial meltdown. there are several independent studies that support this. one of the reasons the TMI incident was such a big deal is because the movie "The China Syndrome" had just come out and people were freaked out by it. the fact of the matter is that The China Syndrome is a Hollywood movie and as such, contains a lot of fictional stuff to make it more entertaining. and keep in mind that Three Mile Island has been operating safely (save one VERY minor incident in the 90's i believe) ever since.

the newer version of nuclear power (Very High Temperature Reactor) are super-efficient and super-safe. in fact, the plants won't look anything like the stereotypical Simpsons-styled reactors. because of their high level of safety and the way they operate, which is MUCH different than the older style, they don't require the large reinforced concrete towers. with the newer designs, a meltdown is virtually impossible. they also have completely clean emissions and spent fuel isn't a problem like it is with the older reactors. in fact, here in Colorado, we used to have one at Fort St. Vrain, although it was converted to conventional power in the 90's mostly due to budget problems and internal company problems with the company that ran it at the time. my uncle worked their for many years when it was nuclear, but retired shortly before it was converted (i think it runs natural gas now.)

the main problem with the newest VHTR type reactors is cost. they're more expensive to build and maintain initially, and a lot of city and state governments want to build cheaper natural gas, coal and hydro plants, despite the proven track record of VHTR and the fact that ultimately the end up being far more cost effective in the long run. but dozens have been operating in Europe and Asia for decades with no problems. these aren't your daddy's nuclear reactors! (and that's a good thing!)

don't let the past issues, outdated technology and unfounded fears cloud your judgement before at least reading up on the current state of nuclear power, which has changed dramatically over the past 30 years or so.
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nuclear plants make nuclear waste

it's toxic and unavoidable

coal plants make black smoke

it's toxic and unavoidable

wood, fossil fuels, and natural gas: all of these things make waste that is toxic and unavoidable.

get over it.
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Mr Burns, try reading the article and then see if you still feel so strongly.

Thanks for reading!
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1) 200 000 persons worked on the site of the Chernobyl blast, as "liquidators". Half of them have yet died because of irradiation-linked illnesses, the other will do in the near future.

2) Chernobyl would have ended in a 15-megatons explosion (the equivalent of the Castle Bravo nuclear test, the bigger ever performed by the US), weren't the courage of miners the Soviet authorities had sent to dig a tunnel under the plant in order to stop the melt fuel from falling into a water-table that was under the reactor. Everything as far as Minsk (the Bielorussian capital) would have been vitrified.
All those hundreds of miners are now dead.

3) Even in countries were the nuclear industry appears as "safe", it is not.
In France, there are big accidents every year, but nobody speaks about it, except the workers' unions. ( in French, it says that there have been 3 accidents in the last 3 months of 2009)
In the US, it is only because of luck that a major accident was avoided at the beginning of 2002: a hole was discovered in the head of the David-Besse nuclear reactor, and it wouldn't have been found if the inspector hadn't been zealed enough.

The nuclear industry might be safe, but it would be more reassuring if they were telling us more about what they're doing.
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#8: The melted fuel never reached the mine shaft, the planned containment device was never installed. Those miners died needlessly. The risk was that a steam explosion could have expelled more radioactive material. 15 MT sounds quite outlandish for a steam explosion. Do you have an actual source?
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However many people died at Chernobyl, the fact is that there have been no other fatal nuclear accidents, and very few environmentally damaging ones. The quality of new reactors is so great that there will never again be an accident on the scale of Chernobyl, or even Three Mile Island or Windscale.

If we're serious about being green, nuclear is our only option. It is safe as houses and produces a small amount of waste for a huge amount of power.
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