Why Nuclear Power Is Our Only Alternative

H. Seitz

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Nuclear power is the cheapest, safest, and cleanest by far, but it pushes the wrong emotional buttons. It just doesn’t fit into our picture of an ideal world, so we dismiss it, and we justify our rejection with flawed perceptions and dated information. But it’s coming anyway, because there’s no other choice.

Flawed Perceptions

How many people died at Fukushima? Now how many of those people died because of exposure to radiation?

Those are two very different questions with very different answers, but in a world where most of us rarely scroll past the headline, the two have become conflated.

Over 15,000 died at Fukushima due to the earthquake and tsunamis. The number of people who died from exposure to radiation is either 0 or 1.

One worker died from lung cancer after cleaning up waste. Whether his death was caused by exposure to radiation is still a subject of debate, and the rates of cancer in the area have remained the same as they were before the plant was damaged.

The Three Mile Island accident in Middletown, Pennsylvania, is also officially responsible for 0 deaths, but unofficial investigations and lawsuits claimed there were above-average rates of cancer and birth defects in the area afterwards.

Throw a dart at a map, and there’s a 50/50 chance that the area will be above average in some measurable way, especially if it’s a town with a small population, or sample size. One person dies of cancer in a town of 17, and you could technically call it a cancer hot spot.

Middletown, Pennsylvania, had a population of approximately 11,000 in 1979, and 135,000 people lived within a 10 miles radius. A post-accident increase in cancer rates was noted in 1982, but the radiation emissions did not account for the increase.

The biggest nuclear disaster in history is Chernobyl. 31 people were killed directly by the accident, and indirect deaths are estimated to be approximately 4,000.

That’s 4,000 deaths across 66 years, almost exclusively from a plant that would have never been allowed to open anywhere else. For comparison, over 13,000 Americans die each year from coal alone.

Nuclear is far safer than any other form of energy production, and modern reactors are even safer.

Contingency Factors

Roofing is one of the most dangerous professions, and solar panels and turbines are typically elevated. All of the material to build the panels and turbines has to be mined, manufactured, transported, and installed, and the final products require regular maintenance and replacement.

It takes approximately 2,000 wind turbines to equal the output of one nuclear reactor. That’s 2,000 enormous machines, each with hundreds of moving parts. You also need batteries to store the energy, as it’s difficult to regulate, and much more difficult than nuclear to plug into a grid.

You’d need over 3 million solar panels to match a reactor, and solar panels produce direct current, so in order to use the energy, you need batteries and inverters. And again, the power is difficult to regulate, especially at night, and extremely difficult to wire into a grid.

In order to power the US solely with panels, they’d need to cover an area roughly the size of Texas. Panels have an average lifespan of 25–30 years. A quality turbine has an average lifespan of 20 years. We would be building panels and turbines in perpetuity, and each would require inspection and adjustment an absolute minimum of twice a year.

Dated Information

Nuclear power plants in America produce approximately 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste per year. That sounds like a lot, until you consider that the US emits over 150 million metric tons of CO2 each year. That’s 75,000 times as much waste, and it can’t be reused.

Fossil fuels produce about 60% of the energy in the US, while nuclear produces about 20%. Go 100% nuclear, and we would reduce total waste by a factor of 15,000, and most of that waste could be recycled and reused.

With the energy produced from nuclear waste, we could power the entire US for 100 years, and we already know how to do it. In several places, we already are.

Cost

Many articles claim that nuclear is more expensive, but once you factor in construction costs, nuclear becomes the cheapest option, and much of the expense is bureaucratic, or based on NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) irrational fears and regulations.

Third and fourth generation reactors have been deliberately designed to streamline the bureaucratic process, as well as be cheaper to build and more efficient in general. And unlike wind or solar, you can build them anywhere and run them 24/7, no inverters or batteries required. Plugging them into a grid is much cheaper and easier, and regulating output is no longer a problem.

Environmental Concerns

Solar has approximately 50 times the footprint per kilowatt hour. In other words, each acre dedicated to reactors would require 50 acres of panels to produce the same amount of energy. In deserts, this isn’t really a problem, except for the sheer number of panels that would have to be maintained.

One could argue that the material to build reactors has to be mined, too, but again, it’d require much less material, and one plan is to use the uranium already sitting inside of our warheads. The most complicated and expensive part of the process (mining and enriching uranium) has already been done, and deescalating nuclear arsenals would be a nice fringe benefit, not to mention putting a halt to anthropogenic climate change.

Conclusion

If we want to continue to live in the modern world as we know it, nuclear power is the only feasible option. Global power consumption is increasing rapidly, and in order to address our problems and continue to advance, we need more power.

Once a plant is up and running, it’s like money for nothing. Suddenly desalinating water is an affordable prospect, as is creating and developing more arable land. And once a town or village has electricity, its occupants can also have access to the internet, and the light to study or work after the sun has gone down.

After examining the research, I can see no alternative, and I’m betting on it. I’ve invested in companies producing nuclear technologies, and it’s the rare investment that has its basis in conscience. If we don’t live to see this future come to fruition, we may not live to see any future at all.

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My goal is to present information responsibly, rationally, and objectively based on the most up-to-date information available at the time. Links will be provided to all citations, so you can check their validity and examine my conclusions. If you find an error or are aware of any relevant new information, please let me know, and once vetted, I will update my content appropriately.

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