Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Deeper Defense of Nuclear

Why do environmentalists hate nuclear power? Nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, have a small footprint, and have the safest track record of all other forms of power. So what’s the deal then? Upon closer inspection of the many arguments against nuclear power--and most of the arguments against most forms of power in general--they are rooted in a much deeper level of flawed reasoning. According to Greenpeace’s website,

Nuclear power is neither safe nor clean. There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ dose of radiation and just because nuclear pollution is invisible doesn't mean it's ‘clean.’”

As many of us reading this blog are nuclear engineering students, it is obvious to us that this is simply an appeal to emotion to make an argument. Radiation is everywhere. It comes from the sun, occurs naturally in food, emanates from buildings made from brick and stone, and even comes from within us.

One of the missions of Greenpeace with regards to nuclear power is simply, “Expose the abysmal economics of new nuclear power.” While it is true that building a nuclear power plant is a very expensive endeavor, it is thanks to countless government regulations, licensing fees, and intentional delays caused by environmentalism groups. However, despite this artificially high initial cost, it is no secret that fuel costs are significantly lower than most other forms of power, meaning that once the plant is built, very cheap power can be produced. It is well known that Greenpeace advocates for wide-scale use of solar and wind power as the “green” alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power. If we want to talk about “abysmal economics,” let us face the reality that most of the new “green” forms of energy are not marketable without significant government subsidy. On top of that, logic dictates that wind, solar, or both combined, can not provide base-load power. Homes, hospitals, and cities cannot be powered by something as intermittent as gusts of wind or a sunny day.

Our way of living--the things we enjoy doing, our life expectancy, and a multitude of things we take for granted on a daily basis--are the consequence of a constant supply of electricity, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. If we were all to truly revert to the environmentalist’s dream world, we would not be able to live as healthy of lives or as fulfilling of lives that we do now. Energy gives us freedom. If a serious defense of nuclear power is to be made as the industry slowly expands, it is definitely worth looking into the more fundamental reasons behind the morality of why we support nuclear power and debunk environmentalist’s arguments for what they really are. An article by Travis Norsen puts the green movement’s arguments into perspective,

They do not seek a better means of generating energy--they want us to "conserve" and to do with less. Their goal is to turn out the lights on our industrial society. What the defenders of nuclear energy need, therefore, is to defend that industrial society--by upholding man's moral right to produce the wealth on which his values and life depend.”

It is worth thinking a little more into why we all support nuclear power. It is more than just an argument of efficiency or various facts and figures. It is an argument to not only preserve our industry, but to preserve our way of life. If we are to live in a future without fossil fuels, a deeper defense of nuclear will be necessary.

Greenpeace on Nuclear Power:

Quoted Article by Travis Norsen:

Thomas Eiden,