Nuclear Power in Perspective

by John Droz, Jr.

Since I believe that most every cloud has a silver lining, let me state that some of what has happened with the nuclear reactors in Japan has been extremely beneficial.

For one thing, a nuclear facility finally experienced the dreaded cataclysmic event. Were millions of people stricken or obliterated? No. Compared to what nature did to Japan, the nuclear consequences will be relatively small.

To understand the extraordinary forces that these reactors were subjected to, consider that the power of the nearby earthquake has been estimated to equal some 300,000 atomic bombs! If that wasn’t enough, there was then a thirty foot tsunami added to it.

So what are some of the good things?

  1. The public can now see that even under this extreme case, there was plenty of time to give surrounding communities notice and for citizens to have an orderly precautionary evacuation.
  2. The public can see that even these outdated forty year old reactors held up exceptionally well, as only minimum radiation has been released.
  3. Despite terms like “meltdown” the public can see that even under these once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, that there will not be any nuclear explosion.
  4. The public will hopefully get more educated about nuclear power realities, and will be less swayed by sensationalism in the future.
  5. The experiences learned here will insure that existing and future reactors will be even safer yet.
  6. This might be the impetus needed to move to thorium units1 and/or mini-nuclear.2 Both of these have big advantages over conventional nuclear power.

One person brought up to me that things like this and Three Mile Island were horrible tragedies. I asked what was so horrific about Three Mile Island and they said that it was because “it was preventable.” Hmmm. The fact is that every accident is preventable, so what? The questions are what are the costs and consequences of such prevention?

In the fifty± years we have had nuclear power in the US, how many deaths have been caused by it? I’m not aware of any being proven.

In the same time period there have been some 2 MILLION people in the US who have died from motor vehicle accidents, with an additional 2± MILLION people injured, plus hundreds of BILLIONS in property damage and lost productivity incurred. ALL OF THIS IS PREVENTABLE!

Yet I don’t hear these “safety” evangelists clamoring to get rid of motor vehicles, or even advocating more moderate measures (like reducing all highway speeds to 30 MPH). The simple reason is that for all this enormous carnage and expense, it is apparent that the benefits still outweigh the consequences.

So it is with nuclear power.

It’s hard to exactly allocate where each of our power sources go to, but for comparison sake, let’s say that our nuclear power goes just to industry. What that would mean is that nuclear power provides the electricity to enable over 40 Million US jobs!3 The resultant products and other benefits from employing these 40 million Americans would be in the hundreds of billions a year.

What would we advocate replacing our nuclear facilities with? Coal could do it, but that clearly has other costs and environmental impacts. Gas would likely be more expensive (particularly now due to the fact that Japan will be buying enormous quantities) and it also has much higher emissions than nuclear.

Wind can’t replace nuclear facilities any more than any number of  golf carts could replace a tractor trailer. Wind also has several environmental problems, and (what you likely have not been told) more people have died from wind energy accidents than have from nuclear power accidents.4

Geothermal could replace nuclear, but wind lobbyists have influenced the rules so that there is more financial incentive to build low-benefit wind projects.

Let’s wrap things up by putting a few other things in perspective:

  1. Every time a woman has a mammogram, she experiences THREE TIMES the radiation of the highest amount received by citizens near Three Mile Island.5
  2. When Ralph Nader was expounding on the dangers of radiation, nuclear physicist Bernard Cohen said that he would be glad to eat Plutonium — if Mr. Nader would eat an equal amount of Caffeine.6 Ralph wisely declined.
  3. This situation again reinforces why Yucca Mountain is needed right now. When politics takes over for science, we are in great jeopardy.
  4. There are many scientific studies that have concluded that some excess radiation actually reduces your likelihood of getting cancer.7 & 8
  5. The amount of energy that we get from splitting one uranium atom is about forty million times the energy that we obtain from burning one carbon atom.9

The bottom line is that the problems with the Japanese nuclear reactors are serious and most unfortunate — but they pale by comparison with the other issues the Japanese are dealing with. Furthermore, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. We will come away from this with even safer nuclear power, which is still the undisputed champion for supplying us reliable, affordable and CO2 free electricity for our future.

John Droz, jr.
physicist & environmental advocate
aaprjohn@northnet.org
Morehead City, NC
4/5/11

References

1. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704893604576200492192158916.html

2. http://world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html

3. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epaxlfile7_2.pdf

http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/pdf/pages/sec8_8.pdf [~800/2232=35%]

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html

4. http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/page4.htm

5. http://xkcd.com/radiation/

6. http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter13.html

7. http://www.freedom1590.com/column.aspx?id=c0ebda2e-bf1f-4104-998b-3dce59f9b1eb

8. http://tinyurl.com/4rzyqu2

9. http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/documents/47803/47803E.pdf

Some other interesting reads:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12860842

http://tinyurl.com/4zmppgu

http://www.energytribune.com/articles.cfm/6879/Dangerous-Fallout-From-Japans-Nuclear-Panic

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/20/a-plea-for-a-return-to-science-on-the-nuclear-power-issue/

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/53939/radiation-exposure

http://blogs.wsj.com/source/2011/03/18/don’t-write-off-nuclear-energy-just-yet/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/japanese-nuclear-plants-evaluators-cast-aside-threat-of tsunami/2011/03/22/AB7Rf2KB_story.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/8392928/Could-Chernobyl-scaremongers-cost-our-nuclear-future.html

http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/17/news/nuclear_energy_alternatives.fortune/?section=magazines_fortune

http://johnosullivan.livejournal.com/33961.html

http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2011/03/15/japan_fearmongers_go_into_nuclear_meltdown__99439.html

http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation

http://reason.com/archives/2011/03/16/resilient-japan

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8381874/After-each-disaster-Japan-rebuilds-bigger-and-better.html

Two good videos:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/weather/jan-june11/nuclear_03-14.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/video/67621962/

Here is a series of good updates on the situation in Japan:

http://www.iaea.org/press/

 

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