Oct 142008
Authors: Jim Sojourner

Amid growing concerns about America’s energy future and CSU’s push to be carbon neutral by 2020, Gwyneth Cravens, author of the book “Power to Save the World: The Truth about Nuclear Energy,” is speaking at CSU on Wednesday to tear down what she says are misconceptions about nuclear power and sustainable energy.

Cravens will dispute some of the myths surrounding nuclear power and attempt to show that it is not only a viable source of power for America, but also the only source of power capable of providing clean, sustainable, large-scale energy.

“Power to save the world does not lie in rivers, wind, rocks, or sunshine; it lies in each one of us,” Cravens said in a phone interview.

Cravens said her lecture will address her change of opinion from being a strong skeptic of nuclear initiatives to a proponent of the alternative energy.

“I talk about my own journey from myth to fact,” Cravens said. “I started out as an anti-nuclear person, and everyone I knew was an anti-nuclear person.”

She said humanity faces a very serious problem in terms of the survival of all the species on earth, global climate change and ocean acidification. Cravens said people have the technology and the ability to deal with all those problems.

“Because we have brains, we can do something about it,” Cravens said. Right now, she said, that solution is nuclear.

“Wind and solar are great, but weak,” Cravens said.

She said most forms of clean power just do not provide enough energy to replace fossil fuels and also leave a “huge footprint.”

“We don’t have a lot of choices on how to get our energy. Most don’t supply base-load electricity,” Cravens said.

While nuclear does supply the baseload, Cravens said, people are against using it for a variety of reasons.One of the largest problems that faces nuclear energy, Cravens said, is the inability of nuclear scientists to discuss the positives of nuclear and dispute the negatives.

“Often they aren’t that communicative,” Cravens said.

This failure of communication, she said, can be attributed to a number of factors, including the secrecy that has long surrounded nuclear power, negative portrayals in entertainment, and an unwillingness to explain nuclear by the scientists who work with it.

“Nuclear is a very good plot device,” Cravens said, laughing, “There are a lot of reasons for this ‘us vs. them’ mentality.”Cravens said she hopes to explain away this mentality with the presentation of facts about nuclear and other “clean” energy sources.

She said she hopes to dispel some of the following common misconceptions:

Radiation is extremely dangerous and can kill a person

A nuclear plant can explode like a nuclear bomb

We do not have a clue what to do with the waste

Radioactive waste is long-lived

“My motive is to talk to people of every stripe,” Cravens said. “I had people come up to me and say, ‘You completely changed my mind.'”

However, Eric Sutherland, a Fort Collins resident, is not convinced.

While Sutherland was not concerned with the common fears that surround nuclear power, he did take issue with it being billed as a clean energy. “Nuclear energy is not a clean energy source,” Sutherland said. “It’s not a zero-emission technology, not by a long shot.”

Sutherland said the amount of greenhouse gases produced in the mining and processing of uranium, construction of the plant, and even the commuters to and from the plants use fossil fuel power, and added that no one knows how much energy will be necessary to process spent fuel rods.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council have both issued statements against using nuclear to solve climate change, Sutherland said.

He said that nuclear power would ultimately reduce emissions if it were to replace existing fossil fuel plants, but will not be particularly effective if they are just built to compensate for a growing power demand.

“Is it better than coal?” Sutherland asked. “Well yes. Everything is better than coal.”

Senior Reporter Jim Sojourner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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