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Why we need nuclear power.

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I was once an anti-nuclear activist. I have researched this in detail. 

First, coal, right now, puts 5 times the tonnage of raw uranium ore into the air than is mined each year worldwide. Think about where Marie Curie got her radium, uranium isn't the only radioactive in coal. (I can supply the calculations based on citation of coal ash extraction studies done for China.)  We have been putting tons of uranium (including the highly radioactive fraction) into the air for hundreds of years.

Second, the hot spots in cities today are not nuclear power plants, but hospitals. If you want radioactives, that is where you are exposed to them. Three Mile Island was nothing compared to the radiation released every year by hospitals. But this is therapeutic use. 

Third, even after accidents of the worst kind of reactors, the impact is low. The number of deaths from Chernobyl is less than deaths by drowning each year in the USA.  The major study that looked at it showed that there were more deaths attributed to forced relocation than to the accident. There is a lot of misinformation about the dangers of radioactivity. It isn't even true that as radiation levels rise cancers rise; although they do at higher levels, at lower levels it is not necessarily so. (This has been often repeated as a reason not to use nuclear power.) There was a poor scientist in Japan who studied this, and his career was basically destroyed by reaction when he showed that mortality rates actually went down in the areas around Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It actually makes sense. Think about cancer therapy using radiation. 

Fourth, people think that solar power is some kind of panacea, but it's not. Solar panels take about 7 years to return the amount of energy used to make them, and their useful life is about 30 years. They have a huge environmental impact when installed in quantities large enough to matter. For example, there is a proposal to cover half the desert in the Southwest with solar panels. Ignoring that doing so would require huge amounts of energy to accomplish, it would change the climate and habitat there forever, and only last for 30 years or so (if we are lucky). Does anyone really think we would go in there and remove it afterward? It would remain, like some high-tech stonehenge the size of Connecticut for eons. 

Fifth, solar power is not cheap. Even at the grossly inflated costs that are a result of our legal climate (its a legal not engineering issue) nuclear is much cheaper than solar power. 

Sixth, France isn't the only nation with lots of nuclear power. Sweden has it also, and Sweden has developed designs that can be replicated, cookie-cutter like, at low cost if the legislation happened. These designs can't melt down even if the containment was broken. They can't release significant radioactivity. You can't build nuclear bombs out of the pile. (These designs are also much simplified, so they aren't as popular with construction firms. They can be built in a few years.)

Seventh, in the midst of an economic meltdown that I think is going to be one for the ages, we must be very careful about our cost structure.  Energy cost is fundamental to any economy. China is currently the lowest cost energy producer, and China is building out everything it can that is low cost. That is why they are building coal, hydroelectric, and nuclear power plants. If our energy production cost is 2-5 times China's, we can't compete with China. That means we won't have jobs and China will. The last great meltdown was followed by global war that rewrote the world. That conflict killed around 50 million people in the world, very few of them Americans. by ignoring economics, we waltz toward war. 

Last, with global warming, we have two choices. We can be driven from our homes and migrate to wherever we are able to live as the globe heats up. But it won't just be us. It will be our forests and wildlife that will be slaughtered. If we have enough energy, we can mitigate that, we can care for our environment by moving water around. Nuclear power can provide us with whatever we need to do that. Nothing else except orbiting solar satellites can, and those aren't even on the table. 

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John Toradze is the pen name of a scientist who ran an office in Tbilisi, Georgia for 5 years and traveled widely in Russia the former USSR nations and nearby. I have authored chapters for books published by the West Point terrorism center on (more...)
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