The Case for Increased Nuclear Power Usage in the United States

| July 17, 2015

The Case for Increased Nuclear Power Usage in the United States

Nuclear energy has been hotly debated in the United States since the Three Mile Island accident of 1979. The employees at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station misread calculation errors, resulting in an exposed radiator core. The clean-up process exposed residents to radiation. The radiation amount for citizens living nearby was determined to equal that of a chest X-ray. A film titled The China Syndrome was released twelve days before the Three Mile Island accident. The film, starring Jane Fonda, portrays the character’s investigation of a fictional near-accident in a nuclear plant. The accident caused no deaths or injuries to employees or public, but the combined influence of the film and the coincidental timing of the accident ruined US public support for nuclear power. Even though some believe nuclear power is dangerous, the US should greatly increase the usage of nuclear power because it is safe, it is better for the environment, and it is more efficient than other viable energy resources.

The dangers of nuclear power can be limited and made safe. Studies show that working for a nuclear power plant is much safer than working in the coal, oil, or hydro powered industries. Contrary to fervor brought forth by the media, the Three Mile Island incident and the recent Fukushima incident did not result in any casualties. It is true that living near a nuclear power plant does induce more exposure to radiation. Some studies suggest the radiation exposed to a human after a year of living near a nuclear power plant is comparable to 1/4000th of a the exposure from a X-Ray. The increase in exposure is negligible Most scientists do agree that there is no safe amount of  radiation exposure but human beings receive much more from sleeping in the same bed as  another human . Chernobyl was a catastrophe which resulted in hundreds of deaths and ruined the local environment for many years.  The incident coincidently occurred during a safety test. The results in Chernobyl cannot be applied to the Western nuclear plants or to this time period. In 1996 , it was concluded by the report INSAG- 7 that “The accident can be said to have flowed from a deficient safety culture, not only at the Chernobyl plant, but throughout the Soviet design, operating and regulatory organizations for nuclear power that existed at that time.” Current nuclear power plants have stricter regulations and safety precautions. Admittedly, nuclear power plants are not one hundred percent foolproof at this time and it is up to the people to decide if clean energy is worth a possible Fukushima event in the United States.

Nuclear power is better for the environment. It does not produce CO2 emissions. Nuclear energy is the main source of clean air, carbon­-free energy in the United States thanks to the fission reactor process which burns no fossil fuels. A nuclear power plant can run up to two years continuously producing electricity. A nuclear power facility does not require much land. Unlike solar panels would if the United States increased their usage. Solar panels would cover up valuable land and produce at a variable rate. Wind turbines do not take up much space but are also unreliable. The UK had a week where the wind turbines collected a drastically reducedamount of power and were forced to buy electricity from France, a country that relies 70% of its energy on nuclear power. Nuclear energy produces much less waste than non-renewable resources. Nuclear power facilities often have wildlife that lives unhindered.  Nuclear energy waste does worry some as the waste which is considered valuable and also a danger to the environment if left exposed. The National Energy Institute claims that, “all the used nuclear fuel produced by the U.S. nuclear energy industry in nearly 50 years—if stacked end to end—would cover an area the size of a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards”. Research continues to grow on nuclear energy as proponents seek to minimize the waste even more. The United States does not currently allow the reuse of nuclear waste.  The process now is that as the substance is used once in the reactor, it is taken out andput in a depository. In Europe, some plants salvage the waste by reusing it many times. As the uranium of the material is recycled, the plutonium part can be put in another separate reactor. The remains are then put into a depository.

Nuclear power is financially efficient compared to other viable energy resources. Reports claim “the average production cost of 2.03 cents per kilowatt-hour includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing fuel and paying for the management of used fuel”. Compare this to the production of solar energy, which costs an average of 12-30 cents per kilowatt-hour per home, and wind at an average of 15.1 cents. The United States only relies around 10% of its total power on nuclear energy. The majority of power comes from non-renewable resources like coal and oil, which also have higher production costs that nuclear energy, with coal at 4.8-5.5 cents per kilowatt hour and gas at 3.9-4.4 cents.A nuclear power plant can take up to twenty years to build from planning, to getting permits, and building it. Nuclear power also has a high startup cost often reaching hundreds of millions if not over a billion dollars.  It is efficient enough to be worth it in the short term as well as the long run. A possible solution to reduce these costs to rehabilitate the nuclear infrastructure with rebuilt plants as well as creating brand new ones.

The United States should increase funding to nuclear energy because it willreduce reliance on fossil fuels, it is efficient, and the dangers can be diminished. Increased Nuclear energy use along with wind turbines, solar energy, and geothermal energy has the potential to completely replace coal and oil.  Nuclear energy may not be a miracle cure but a focus on them over the next fifty years may give science enough time to develop better practices for renewable energy while minimizing the environmental impact.







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