Opinion Blog: Nuclear Energy: Worth the Risk?
February 24, 2010
Posted by Laura Ratliff
Does the word “Chernobyl” mean anything to anyone anymore? Apparently not, considering that, last Tuesday, President Obama announced that the Energy Department will be financing two $8.3 billion nuclear reactors in Burke County, Ga.
These reactors will be the first nuclear project in the U.S. since the 1970s—and with good reason.
In the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, only 50 people died, but another 800,000 were exposed to harmful radiation, meaning that thousands may later be diagnosed, and die from, cancer.
On U.S. soil, the 1976 Three Mile Island incident is likely the most notable disaster related to nuclear power. Even though no one died—an argument frequently posited by those in support of nuclear energy—nearly half of the reactor core melted and the remaining overheated hydrogen gas left the town of Harrisburg, Pa. fearful of another explosion.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Council, leaks have occurred in at least 27 different reactors at 65 different sites throughout the country. Is that a risk we should be willing to take?
If nuclear disasters aren’t enough to deter someone away from nuclear power, the plethora of problems associated with the disposal of nuclear waste should be.
When dealing with uranium, plutonium, and other radioactive elements—some of which have half lives of over 100,000 years—special care must be taken during disposal. Where, exactly, are we going to dispose of these tons of toxic chemicals?
Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was one such place, until Obama pulled the plug on the project earlier this year. The project was set to be the largest repository of U.S. nuclear waste.
In his proposal, Obama fumbled regarding questions of waste disposal. It all seems very contradictory, considering that the Yucca Mountain project was defunded.
By contrast to nuclear energy, U.S. wind energy produced a record of 10 gigawatts of generating capacity in 2009. Wind energy also produces no waste and poses virtually no risk to those who are employed in the industry or to those who live near one of the many behemoth wind farms that are cropping up throughout the country.
It’s really a simple equation: two nuclear reactors, hundreds of tons of toxic waste, and no place to put it? Pass.