On March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by a devastating tsunami. The damage left thousands of people dead or misplaced. The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant was damaged in the process, leading to the leak of nuclear material, which continues to endanger Japanese citizens. Environmentalists and anti-nuclear energy activists are using this example to demand the change that will prevent these nuclear disasters from happening again.
Despite this recent disaster, nuclear energy is receiving an unjustified bad reputation. Nuclear energy has numerous benefits, and irrational fear is the cause of its misleading reputation. The problem is not nuclear energy itself, rather, it is the safety of the power plants.
Americans are scared of the idea of nuclear energy. We all know what happened in Chernobyl in 1986, and people are terrified that nuclear disasters can bring about such destruction in a blink of an eye. Because of the meltdown in Fukushima, nuclear energy is losing quite a bit of support. I can see where the fear comes from, and contrary to public opinion, nuclear energy is in fact incredibly safe, clean and effective.
One of the main concerns anti-nuclear energy activists have when it comes to the production of electricity through nuclear means is environmental safety. But actually, according to scentificamerican.com, coal plants emit 100 times more radiation than your standard Nuclear Energy plant. “Fly Ash” is a radioactive by-product that occurs when coal is burned, and tons of it is pumped into the atmosphere every day.
The by-product of nuclear energy is steam, which makes it a viable energy option that also promotes the health of the planet. Interestingly enough, in a 1978 paper for Science magazine, a man by the name of J.P. McBride evaluated the radioactivity being emitted from your basic coal plant and a nuclear power plant. The coal plant was estimated emitting significantly more radiation, poisoning surrounding populations and its food sources. People living near the coal plants were found to possess more radiation within their bodies, and their food sources were 50 to 200 percent more radiated than those near nuclear energy plants. Yes, nuclear power plants do create radioactive waste, but it can be easily contained.
Nuclearpowerinstitute.org states that if all nuclear waste since the beginning of the industry was to be placed onto a football field, the total volume would only cover 15 yards. In comparison, if the energy produced by nuclear energy was produced by burning coal, it would have resulted in an extra 147 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
Along with being environmentally friendly, nuclear energy is also astoundingly efficient. The Nuclear Power Institute claims that one third of all electricity used in the world is produced through nuclear means, and it generates electricity at an 86 percent capacity factor, which is 30 percent higher than natural gas and coal.
Nuclear power is the future. Nuclear plants obviously need to beef up their security measures in order to prevent disasters such as Fukushima from reoccurring, but discontinuing nuclear energy would be a huge mistake. It is way too efficient to ignore, and can be incredibly safe when operating under pristine circumstances.
Chris Chipman is a junior English major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.