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Having written in these pages often in support of nuclear energy, I feel obliged to address the concerns of the many good people who react with horror to the idea. I do so in the belief that this source of power is essential to the goal of halting climate change.
Climate change is a very large problem and requires a very large solution. While I fully endorse all the little things that each of us can do, like riding a bicycle, walking, insulating our houses – the real issue is a huge increase in reliable electricity supply.
I will briefly address the basic concerns with nuclear power as best I can in a short essay. First, what do we do with radioactive waste? Actually, there is not a great deal of it, a few good shiploads would take care of all the waste accumulated in the U.S. over the last 50 years. There are two basic methods for its handling. Both start with encasing the spent fuel pellets in molten glass. The resulting billets can be stored in geologically stable underground deposits. Better still, it can be dumped in the bottom of ocean trenches around the world.
This brings forth expressions of horror. OK, bear with me. Research has shown that over thousands of years it will leak. This would raise the level of natural radiation already in the oceans by a figure of less than one per cent which is harmless to ocean life. My point is that the waste disposal problem is political, not technical.
A second major fear concerns safety. There are around 430 nuclear stations operating in the world. Their safety record has been superior to most other sources of electric power except wind and solar. The accident at Fukushima caused no deaths except for some sad cases of people dying of psychiatric illness dues to forced relocation. Following the serious accident at Chernobyl, the death toll has been grossly and shamelessly overstated by the fear-mongers. Read the World Health Organization’s report.
Mention nuclear power and many people immediately think of bombs. It needs to be emphatically stated that no nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb. It is impossible. It is significant that South Korea has nuclear power but no bombs, while the North has bombs but no power. The step from nuclear power reactors to bomb making is huge, and only rogue states attempt it, and they are well monitored and restrained by the rest of the world.
It is true that there is no risk-free form of power generation, even renewables have their problems. However, it can be confidently argued once the real facts are separated from the fake-science out there, that nuclear power can be a huge part of a low carbon economy that we desperately need. We need to educate ourselves to face the fears that have been pushed onto our culture by misguided anti-nuke lobbyists. They have done us a grave disservice. Our climate problem could have been less serious long ago without their hysteria. I encourage all concerned “green” people to put you fears aside and do some serious reading in Google.
Peter Noakes is a Charlottetown resident with a lifelong interest in energy issues and a former “anti-nuke” activist in Australia.