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Nuclear power is (part of) the answer

Jordan Ryan | Wednesday, April 14, 2004

We all take our electrically powered lifestyle for granted. We walk into a room and flip the switch and expect there to be light. When there’s an outage, we feel wronged. Electricity is a God-given right, but power plants are Satan incarnate.Michael Subialka’s April 14 letter against nuclear energy generation is just another shortsighted attack on an integral part of an intelligent, diverse energy policy.The letter is replete with uninformed statements and flawed arguments. While it is true that fission products from commercial reactors are highly toxic, they remain sequestered and under control, unlike the waste products from a coal plant, also radioactive, which we all breathe daily. “Acceptable” waste disposal methods do in fact exist and are used by the French, who generate over 70 percent of their electricity using nuclear reactors, in comparison to our 19 percent.Continuing, Subialka states that, “90 percent of all cancers are preventable,” and that we should “limit our exposure to radioactive sources,” but fails to provide evidence that nuclear power generation actually results in any radiation dose for citizens. The truth is that a two-hour airline flight results in a radiation dose 110 times greater than a whole year of living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, and both are negligible doses.Of course, what anti-nuclear argument would be complete without mentioning Chernobyl? Chernobyl was a haphazardly constructed power station at best. It did not have the impregnable concrete containment building that is required around all reactors in this country. This, combined with the actual construction of the reactor, precludes this type of accident from ever occurring in the United States. The letter also mentioned Three Mile Island, but that accident resulted in no injuries, and new reactor designs and operational practices have eliminated the chance of a repetition.Finally, we must consider the alternatives. Fossil fuels are cheap and plentiful for the time being, but conventional wisdom says that they are changing our climate. If this is correct and if we keep it up, we’re talking melted ice caps, flooded farmland and hundreds of millions of people starving. That sounds worse to me than any worst-case nuclear scenario.Solar and wind are clean, but they supply paltry amounts of intermittent power. Hydroelectric dams are clean and powerful, but geography limits possible locations.So, what is the answer? As with almost anything, moderation and diversification are key. No one source is the magic bullet, but rather our country must rely on a balanced energy policy, including nuclear, to sustain our increasing demand.

Jordan RyanseniorAlumni HallApril 14