The growth of nuclear energy in the United States suffered a double whammy in 1979 with the almost simultaneous occurrence of the Three Mile Island accident and the release of the movie The China Syndrome.
The Three Mile Island accident, which is most significant accident in the nuclear power industry in the United States, in retrospect was a very minor incident that resulted in zero deaths or injuries. However, it was used by anti nuclear activists to basically kill off any new nuclear plants in this country.
Jane Fonda, the star of The China Syndrome, used the incident to campaign against nuclear power and promote her movie. Most of the opposition to nuclear power comes from irrational fear, a fear that is fed by those opposed to nuclear power.
Many people who formerly were opposed to nuclear power are now strong supporters of it. Among these people are:
Patrick Moore, a co founder of Greenpeace, who stated in a September 2006 appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development:
In the early 1970s, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my Greenpeace compatriots.
That’s the conviction that inspired Greenpeace’s first voyage across the North Pacific coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
But a lot has changed in the 35 years since then, and my views have changed along with these new circumstances.
As a co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition along with Gov. Christy Todd Whitman, I make it known often that I strongly believe the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because now—more than ever before—nuclear energy is the electricity source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: potentially harmful climate change.
James Lovelock, known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, in which he postulates that the Earth functions as a kind of superorganism. Lovelock states:
“The important and overriding consideration is time; we have nuclear power now, and new nuclear building should be started immediately. All of the alternatives, including fusion energy, require decades of development before they can be employed on a scale that would significantly reduce emissions. In the next few years, renewables will add an increment of emission-free energy, mainly from wind, but it is quite small when compared with the nuclear potential.”
Stewart Brand, founder, publisher, and editor of The Whole Earth Catalog. Brand states:
“Now we come to the most profound environmental problem of all … global climate change. Its effect on natural systems and on civilization will be a universal permanent disaster. … So everything must be done to increase energy efficiency and decarbonize energy production. Kyoto accords, radical conservation in energy transmission and use, wind energy, solar energy, passive solar, hydroelectric energy, biomass, the whole gamut. But add them all up and it’s still only a fraction of enough. … The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon dioxide loading of the atmosphere is nuclear power. … It also has advantages besides the overwhelming one of being atmospherically clean. The industry is mature, with a half-century of experience and ever improved engineering behind it. … Nuclear power plants are very high yield, with low-cost fuel. Finally, they offer the best avenue to a ‘hydrogen economy,’ combining high energy and high heat in one place for optimal hydrogen generation.”
Much is always made about the issue of nuclear waste and what to do with it.
The United States only generates about 20% of its electricity from nuclear. Here is a sample of the percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power in other countries:
So why don't these countries have a problem of nuclear waste storage larger than the US? It is because they recycle their nuclear waste. Something that was banned in the US during the Carter Administration. The ban has since been lifted, but US policy still opposes recycling.
About 95% of nuclear waste can be recycled and reused. Using recycling, France estimates that all the nuclear waste generated to provide electricity for a family of four, for 20 years, can be stored harmlessly in a glass cylinder the size of a cigarette lighter.
Here are some more facts about nuclear energy from the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition:
Nuclear energy is:
Nuclear energy is an environmentally clean option to produce electricity choice – it produces no harmful greenhouse gases suspected to cause global warming and no gases that could cause ground-level ozone formation, smog or acid rain.
Nuclear already accounts for 73 percent of the nation’s emission-free electricity generation and needs be used in compliment with other renewables. Alternative renewable energy sources are important, but can only take us so far – wind and solar can be unreliable and geothermal power isn’t well-suited for all applications. The other major sources of emission-free electricity are hydroelectric plants, which provide 6.6 percent of our nation’s electricity; wind energy, 0.4 percent; and solar energy, 0.01 percent.
Safe and Secure
Nuclear energy is a safe choice. For example, you would have to live near a nuclear power plant for more than 2,000 years to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you receive from a single diagnostic medical x-ray.
Nuclear energy is secure. A two-day national security simulation in Washington, D.C., in 2002 conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded nuclear plants “are probably our best defended targets,” with the industry spending $1.2 billion in security since September 11, 2001.
Affordable and Reliable
With rising energy costs a concern for every American, nuclear energy is an affordable and reliable economic choice for electricity. Nuclear power has the lowest production cost of the major sources of electricity. Nuclear plants are the most efficient on the electricity grid and their costs are more predictable than many other energy sources.
Nuclear energy brings economic benefits. From new jobs around new plants to adding $500 million a year to the economy for each new plant brought on line, nuclear plants bring significant economic benefits. Additionally, employees at the plant earn an average of 36 percent more than average earnings in the surrounding communities, so the jobs are high-paying. Perhaps that is why an opinion survey, conducted by Bisconti Research Inc., found that 76 percent of Americans living in close proximity to nuclear power plants are willing to see a new reactor built near them.
Nuclear power is a technology that exists now. Nuclear energy can fulfill all of our electrical needs now and into the future. The fuel is readily available in the United States. It is safe and clean. It is recyclable. It is very affordable. In short there is no good reason not to use nuclear power.