Talk about nuclear power has been resurrected again with grim news about climate change and the push for energy independence for the United States. In fact, an Oregon State University (OSU) professor, Brian Woods, claims that nuclear power has a bright future and advocates construction of nuclear power plants across the nation to meet “future energy needs.”
Is nuclear power truly an answer to the energy crisis? If you could live near solar panels or wind turbines, or a nuclear reactor, which would you choose?
Apparently, Professor Woods is only looking at the energy generation side of the equation when he considers alternative energy. With respect to nuclear power, he states:
“I think we stack up very well against all other types of energy sources. Nuclear emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide, lower than solar and wind, because of the manufacturing processes used in making those systems.”
Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the tremendous costs associated with nuclear power generation, and the risks of potential accidents (anyone remember Three Mile Island in the 1970s?) and leakage. Acknowledging the concerns about nuclear waste, Professor Woods counters that “every type of energy production has some sort of waste product.”
That may be true, but I prefer mine not to be glowing and radioactive!
Other people minimize the risks associated with nuclear waste, stating that the amount of waste resulting from energy generation for each person over a lifetime can be fit into a soda can. Multiply that by the population and you end up with billions (trillions?) of radioactive cans that have to be buried somewhere. Not to mention the fact that the waste is dangerous for millions of years.
Do you feel safer now? Me neither.
At OSU, the Department of Engineering and Radiation Health Physics are working to develop reactor designs that will allegedly address cost, safety and environmental issues associated with nuclear power generation. Since these students and faculty stand to profit from their studies, its not too surprising to hear that they believe nuclear to be the best overall option to ease the pressure on limited energy resources.
Unless and until the issues are thoroughly studied and vetted, however, I am much more interested in seeing alternative energy funds invested in research and development of solar panels, wind or geothermal.
The bottom line is that we have to weigh the very minimal amounts of CO2 emissions that may result from solar or wind manufacturing against the long-term safety and cost issues associated with operation of nuclear power plants. Those issues have not been satisfactorily addressed yet.
And they may never be.