Why Do We Fear Nuclear Power?   2 comments

The US nuclear power industry currently generates about 20% of the nation’s electricity, but it faces an uncertain long-term future. No nuclear plants have been ordered since 1978 and more than 100 reactors have been canceled, including all ordered after 1973. No units are currently under construction. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 1 reactors, ordered in 1970, were licensed to operate in 1996 and are the most recent US nuclear unit to be completed. High plant construction costs, public hysteria about nuclear safety and waste disposal, extremely complicated regulatory compliance procedures, and environmental lawsuits are just some of the challenges that face the American nuclear industry.

Construction costs of reactors completed since the mid-1980s range from $2-6 BILLION, averaging $3,000 per kilowatt of electricity-generating capacity. Plants have mostly been custom-built. The industry predicts new plants could be built for half that if identical plants were built in series, but they haven’t been. A 1,000-mega-watt reactor operating at 90% capacity could generate 7.9 billion kilowatts in a year. That’s enough to supply electricity for 690,000 households. Generating that much electricity with oil would take 13.7 million barrels; coal 3.4 million short tons; natural gas 65.8 billion cubic feet.

There are 104 licensed reactors at 65 plant sites in 31 states. Electricity production from US nuclear plants is greater than that from oil, natural gas, and hydroelectric, and behind only coals, which accounts for more than half of the US electricity generation. Nuclear plants generate more than half the electricity in six states, without emitting carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Like coal, oil and natural gas plants, nuclear plants produce electricity by boiling water into steam, which turns turbines to produce electricity. Nuclear plants use uranium fuel pellets contained in rods cooled by water.

The industry’s safety performance has been extraordinarily good, resulting from high standards of reactor operations, robust plant designs, government oversight, and extensive workforce training. Radiation is easily detected and managed. American electric companies take extensive measures to prevent release of radiation from nuclear energy facilities. The US nuclear energy industry is applying the lessons learned from Fukushima to enhance safety and emergency preparedness at American’s reactors. Nuclear plant design and construction ensure the plants can withstand powerful earthquakes and other extreme natural events like tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods. Sensitive monitoring instruments at each nuclear facility detect earthquakes, so operators can shut down a plant if ground motion exceeds a specific level, well below the maximum the facility is designed to withstand. Following such a shutdown, owners must perform extensive inspections to evaluation the impact of the earthquake and the condition of safety systems and equipment. NRC approval is required by operators can restart the reactor. When a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake on the East Coast in 2011 shut down the North Anna reactor in Virginia, the NRC took 80 days to restart the plant and after 110,hours of inspections and analysis concluded that “safety system functions were maintained” and “reviews of the plant equipment, systems and structures did not reveal significant damage.”

It is important to recognize that the Tohotu earthquake and tsunami killed an estimated 20,000 people. The human tragedy of that should not be downplayed. However, contrary to popular hysteria, radiation from Fukushima has not resulted in any fatalities. Not even repair workers have died from radiation exposure, though some involved in the plant clean up did die from other conditions. Members of the Health Physics Society, drawn from academia and medicine, studied the event extensively and said the radiation doses from Fukushima were too small to have a significant health effect. In early 2013, the World Health Organization concluded that there were no observable increases in cancer rates in the general population. Of course, it’s early days yet, so let’s look at other disasters.

Three Mile Island had a similar outcome. Twenty years after the accident, there were no deaths or increased cancer risks associated with radiation in the surrounding area or among plant personnel.

Chernobyl, which stupidly lacked a containment dome, had fatalities, but the long-term health effects of those living in the nearby region have proven minimal.

So, what are we afraid of? That is NOT a rhetorical question. What are you afraid of when it comes to nuclear energy?

2 responses to “Why Do We Fear Nuclear Power?

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  1. Reblogged this on YouViewed/Editorial.

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  2. Reblogged this on aurorawatcherak and commented:

    I am tired after launching Life As We Knew It, so am a little disorganized this week. For that reason, here is a quality reblog. I am actually still asking the question – What do we fear nuclear energy?

    Like

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