Jan 272008
Authors: Ian Bezek

After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, the nuclear power industry had been left for dead.

Utilities started decommissioning their existing nuclear plants and no new ones were built for several decades.

However, recently, President Bush urged the expansion of nuclear power generation, spurring renewed interest in the beleaguered power source. New nuclear power plants are getting permits approved, and construction on them will begin shortly.

This is a welcome development.

The sad truth is that conservation has made little change in the habits of wasteful Americans and therefore, if we want to keep our furnaces running, we need new power plants.

Already, we have seen blackouts across America as the power system becomes increasingly strained from higher demand and limited supply.

Due to the dramatic surge in the price of oil and natural gas, nuclear and coal are the only economically feasible solutions to developing the large amount of new electricity resources needed to meet growing demand.

There are few new places to build dams — which rules out the hydroelectric power source.

Wind is expensive and faces several problems — mainly that the “Saudi Arabia of wind power” is North Dakota. Unfortunately, our aging power grid is incapable of carrying electricity from North Dakota to the heavily populated areas of the country.

Solar is even more expensive than wind, and it only works during the day. Since we don’t have batteries capable of storing electricity in any large quantity for use at night, solar is out as a big source of power.

Both wind and solar can make small incremental additions to the power supply but are not the answer to large-scale, low cost power generation; this leaves us with just coal and nuclear as feasible solutions.

Coal releases gigantic quantities of global warming agents into the atmosphere. Coal also is a major contributor to America’s problem with acid rain. The idea of burning more coal rightfully horrifies both environmentalists and health experts.

Besides its disastrous effects on the environment, coal burning causes major health issues including lung cancer, asthma and a myriad other health issues.

It is pretty safe then to say that coal is not the solution to our problems. By process of elimination, this leaves only nuclear as a cheap and dependable source of power generation.

However, I’m sure you’re now asking: “Is it safe?”

Contrary to the media’s scare stories, the answer is yes. Nuclear power has accounted for precisely zero deaths in America.

The worst nuclear accident in United States history, the partial meltdown of the core of the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania led to no deaths or injuries. The amount of radiation received by the average nearby resident affected by the meltdown was equal to the radiation dose of one chest x-ray — in other words, not even slightly significant.

The only nuclear power incident leading to significant deaths was the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union.

Utility industry veteran Jason Makansi in his book “Light Out” said the Chernobyl plant used a primitive design that would have failed to get its safety permits in first-world countries. Besides this, the Soviet Empire was cash-strapped at this point and was skimping on maintenance of its power facilities.

Makansi pointed out that in much of Europe nuclear has been used for years without incident. France generates almost three-quarters of its power from nuclear and has never had a significant accident.

Nuclear power is cheap, reliable and safe.

Nuclear weapons are often lumped together in people’s minds with nuclear power. However, in the field of power generation, fossil fuels are the real weapons of mass destruction.

Ian Bezek is a sophomore economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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