Expand nuclear energy to curb emissions

by Jacob Clark

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

The production of electricity accounts for 41 percent of CO2 emissions in the United States. This is well above emissions by industry and even transportation emissions, making it the leader in greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. In contrast, nuclear energy doesn’t emit any greenhouse gasses during nuclear fission. Why then, do we not build more nuclear power plants?

It seems like we’ve been inundated with advertisements selling the latest and greatest fuel-efficient cars to hit the market and proclaiming our duty to drive less and ride more public transit. And sure, that’s certainly a valuable first step toward energy conservation. However, if we were truly concerned with reducing our carbon footprint, we would reevaluate our energy production. Transforming 41 percent of CO2 emissions to nearly zero seems like it would be a pretty good investment, doesn’t it?

So again, why don’t we build more nuclear power plants? The answer isn’t simple; it involves an understanding of nuclear energy the media won’t give us and most Americans don’t necessarily have an interest in learning. But the time has come to turn our backs on the status quo and explore other methods of energy production.

Of course, the images of nuclear plants painted by the media are less than pretty. Though incidents are exceptionally rare, every time a freak error occurs at a nuclear plant, the media blows the incident out of proportion, creating in the minds of the people images of nuclear holocaust and the fear of eminent danger. Of course there are risks involved in using nuclear energy, but the dangers are largely misunderstood.

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

To put things into perspective, the Fukushima power plant survived the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, and a resulting tsunami responsible for killing 13,778 people and left another 14,141 unaccounted for. Even with the damage sustained from both events, the power plant didn’t melt down, and has yet to kill anyone from the radiation the plant has released. The idea perpetuated by the media that power plants are a few fragile pieces of machinery prone to breakdown and disaster is totally and unequivocally false. New technology — including containment structures that “quench” coolant tanks and blasting caps — has completely rejuvenated a potentially disaster-prone nuclear industry. It’s a mistake to compare our current plants with those responsible for past events.

In fact, radiation released by coal burning is estimated to be 100 times the amount released by its nuclear counterpart, and it is estimated that 24,000 lives are shortened each year because of coal-burning plants. Some estimates say the lives of coal workers are shortened by as many as 14 years.

Ironically, this fear and misunderstanding is what leads to the most dangerous situations. If the Fukushima power plant had the redundant cooling systems most plants in the U.S. do, we never would have heard of any nuclear problems in Japan.

Anti-nuclear legislation deters investors from providing these plants with the funding they need to continue improving safety measures. If an investor is afraid a politician will pass laws against nuclear power, they will be less likely to invest. If legislators would allow new nuclear plants to be built, we wouldn’t have to resort to uprating existing plants, which is a risky way of pushing reactors to the limit in order to get more energy out of them. Our economy and our environment need these investments.

After the tragedy in Japan, the media began pointing fingers at the San Onofre power plant. Built to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, the power plant has received much criticism and demand for reform in light of the 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan. Recent research shows that the San Andreas fault is due for an earthquake that could be more than an 8.0 magnitude, but certain facts aren’t taken into consideration. The San Andreas Fault is almost 100 miles away from the San Onofre power plant. By the time an earthquake of that magnitude traveled 100 miles, it would be significantly less destructive. There is also a 25-foot tsunami wall protecting the plant, and the walls of the reactors are so thick it could withstand impact from a jetliner, so it is well-protected against any potential tsunami.

Let’s not be governed by ignorance and fear. The first step in changing the way we treat our environment is cleaning up our production of electricity. The waste produced by nuclear fission can be controlled much easier than the tons of CO2 we spew into the air each year. Smog could be a thing of the past. Allocating more funding toward nuclear energy can also extend the life of nuclear resources significantly. As our nation continually tries to reduce harmful pollution while still providing the conveniences we have come to need, nuclear energy is the best alternative to coal-burning power plants. Let’s embrace an alternative to King Coal; it’s time we go nuclear.

—Jacob Clark is a biology and Spanish junior.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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