I write today to support nuclear power, not to weaken it. As a former reactor operator, I know firsthand the benefits and dangers of nuclear power. Electric Utilities and the Nuclear industry tell us that nuclear power plants are necessary and worth the risk.
As we stand at the start of the American nuclear renaissance,Pennsylvania is home to five nuclear facilities Beaver Valley, Three Mile Island, Peach Bottom, Susquehanna and Limerick. I cannot knock it. Nuclear power has been good to me; the education and training I received have been indispensable. Nuclear power has been beneficial to Pennsylvania; the industry has provided safe, necessary energy for decades with barely a glitch. It is hard to count the Three Mile Island accident since no one died.
Nuclear energy is safe; although the boiling water reactors at Peach Bottom, Susquehanna and Limerick are similar to the designs at Fukushima our plants are better than Japan’s. Our attention to design and quality is better. During the late 70’s and early 80’s when Three Mile Island, Limerick and Berwick were built, Ford built the Pinto, Chevy built the Chevette, Chrysler built he K Car and Honda built the Accord. A disaster just can’t happen in Pennsylvania.
Nuclear plants are necessary; Pennsylvania’s nuclear energy plants represent 21% of Pennsylvania’s total electric generating capacity. In 2008, Pennsylvania exported 28% of the electricity it produced. The five Pennsylvania facilities cost more than 28 billion dollars to construct (USD 2007); costs recovered from those that pay utility bills. Construction of 9,300 MW solar photovoltaics would cost about 37 billion dollars, 27% more, but would have no monthly utility bill, no radioactive waste to dispose of and never need to be refueled. This ignores solar thermal which is much cheaper to construct and has no monthly utility bill, no hazardous waste and is refueled by the sun.
Nuclear energy is worth the risk; certainly there would be no immediate deaths from an accident. There were no such deaths at Three Mile Island or Fukushima. Although, Japanese authorities have evacuated a 12 mile area around the Fukushima plant and found contaminated vegetables, raw milk and drinking water as far away as Tokyo. For perspective, if this was the Limerick facility it would be an evacuation from Boyertown to Valley Forge, with contamination stretching from Baltimore to New York City and contamination of the Schuylkill River. A 2005 study about the impacts of the Chernobyl accident by the United Nations found about 4000 cases of thyroid cancer in children and adolescents, as a result, from contamination.
Utilities and the nuclear industry whom have a vested interest in centralized generation and distribution of energy tell us that these plants are necessary and worth the risk. Their very survival is dependent on centralized generation of energy. For applications such as submarines and deep-space exploration, I agree nuclear energy is necessary and worth the risk. When we have other choices is it necessary and worth the risk to power your toaster? Choices that if they failed would not contaminate your drinking water, would not contaminate your raw milk, would not containment your vegetables and would not require the evacuation of thousands? From the industries perspective, it is necessary and worth the risk their survival and profits depends on it. But is it worth the risk for you?
(John Costlow worked for the nuclear power industry and is an advocate for sustainable energy. For more information about the nuclear power industry click on Rock The Capital.)
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