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Professor advocates for increased use of nuclear energy

| Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Journalist and author Gwyneth Cravens covered the the merits of nuclear energy in her presentation Tuesday night and spoke about why the country should transition to using it nearly exclusively. According to Cravens the world is currently facing “global energy poverty,” in which large parts of the world have no access to electricity.

Cravens said, “1.6 billion people have no access to light, and 80 percent of them live in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Healthcare, education, the economy, this all has to do with how much energy you have.”

After Cravens’s presentation, a panel of Notre Dame experts gave commentary, many of them agreeing with her statements. Philosophy professor Don Howard argued it was a “moral imperative” to make energy available to all people, while still protecting the environment.

According to Cravens, Pope Francis’ writings on the environment align with her beliefs.

“If you read his encyclical works, [the pope] really is very concerned about climate change,” she said. “He talks often about the necessity of changes in lifestyle to combat global warming.”

Cravens argued that these changes could be brought about very effectively by the expanded use of nuclear energy. She didn’t always think this way and used to believe that nuclear energy was very dangerous. However, once she began doing her own research, she said, the data changed her mind.

“I learned a couple of things that were very humbling. One was the multiple layers of protection at a nuclear plant,” she said. “I had no idea. I more or less thought that it was, I don’t know, a dirty cabin sort of place.”

In fact, according to panelist and engineering professor Peter Burns, nuclear power is one of the safest energy sources available.

“Coal generates 22.5 deaths per terawatt hour … natural gas produces 0.053 deaths,” he said.

Burns continued and pointed out that the frequency of accidents associated with nuclear power plants is extremely low.

“Here in the US, we are dealing with nuclear reactors that are fairly old — as much as 40, 50 or 60 years,” he said. “Yet their safety record is still very, very good. I propose it would be even better if we could equip the nuclear reactors with redundancy systems that would eliminate [operating] error.”

Cravens agreed, arguing that existing nuclear power plants should be updated to include such safety precautions, as well as the recycling of fuel. According to her research, one person living for seventy years off of nuclear energy generates enough waste to fill a soda can.

“If we recycle our nuclear fuel we can reduce that to about the size of a large tube of lipstick,” she said.

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