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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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  • vlady47

    Mrs. Cravens is delusional.
    The continued promotion of nuclear energy is a promotion for weapons of mass destruction.
    US experts warn plutonium stocks could soar in East Asia

    • Jag_Levak

      “US experts warn plutonium stocks could soar in East Asia

      From that article:

      “Japan plans to open as early as next spring a plant that could reprocess enough spent reactor fuel to make as many as
      1,000 nuclear bombs a year.”


      “Japan has already accumulated a massive stockpile of plutonium it sent overseas for reprocessing. There is 11 metric tons in Japan and another 36 metric tons reprocessed in Britain and France waiting to be returned to Japan — in all enough for nearly 6,000 atomic bombs.”

      Okay, wow. First, who are these “US experts” who are making this claim? This looks like the Associate Press has started consulting kook central for their stories. “Up next, experts warn that the chemicals which aliens are dispersing through chemtrails could bring on a zombie apocalypse.”

      Reality check. All these tons of plutonium they are talking about are good for making exactly zero nuclear bombs. (By a not-so-amazing coincidence, that is also how many nuclear bombs in existence were made from spent fuel.) Bombs need plutonium which has high purity of the isotope Pu-239. (93% or greater) Spent fuel plutonium has been left in the oven too long and is loaded with contaminating isotopes which make it useless for bombs. In fact, if you mix one part spent fuel plutonium with 3 parts weapons grade plutonium, it all becomes contaminated and useless for bombs. So spent fuel plutonium is not only NOT a proliferation hazard, it could actually be an anti-proliferation tool. Reactors could be too. By far the most effective way to eliminate fissionable plutonium is to fission it. Break up plutonium atoms, and no power on Earth can put them back together again.

      The Associated Press writer who wrote this laughable piece should have checked with real experts–or at least had a look at Wikipedia:


  • DS

    All Nuclear reactors leak ALL of the time! Leaks are part of the design. http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0736/ML073620235.pdf

  • Eva Chavarria Hunter

    Nothing good is achievable when it comes to clean safety measures of precautions especially when existing nuclear power plants need to be updated. Also, an assessment of one person living for seventy years off of nuclear energy generates enough waste to fill a soda can is redundant when one plant gets hit with a natural or any type of disaster where levels of radiation from leaks become uninhabitable for centuries. Therefore, aligning the author, herself, with the Pope’s writings on the environment is a waste of time.

  • laureldefalco@gmail.com

    Cancer was practically nonexistent before the nuclear age. How can we allow the term “clean energy “be applied to a process that causes cancer in children ? What a horrible shame that this destructive murderous industry of war has corrupted even the best colleges with professors who do not seem to value the scientific process, which leads us to the indisputable truths about the effects of various radionucleides like Cesium, Strontium. and Radioactive Iodine on the human body. The Fukushimaand Chernobyl nuclear disasters released huge amounts of these DNA mutating radioactive contaminants. Cesium attacks your heart because it is a muscle. Strontium 90 attacks bones and causes Leukemia. Radioactive Iodine attacks the thyroid and causes thyroid cancer !
    The Nuclear Cancer Industry is pretending its only rivals are gas and coal. Renewable energy is the future, if there is to be any future. Don’t be tricked by fake scientists who deny the existence of a link between abnormal cell mutation, caused by low level radiation, and cancer. And don’t let anyone tell you that eating a banana gives you the same radiation as living near a nuclear plant does. Don’t believe the lie that nuclear is “carbon free “. Every step of the nuclear cycle is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, from the mining of Uranium to the fuel processing and the construction of huge concrete structures. For a nuclear reactor to operate with low emissions, a high grade Uranium ore is needed, for which there is a finite amount. If all the world powers relied only on nuclear for energy production, there would be no more Uranium to mine and mill after only ten years. By the time it would take for a nuclear power plant to be built in the USA, all the higher grade ore will have already been used up by China and India, so dirty MOX fuel will burn hotter, wearing steam generator tubes much quicker than expected, leading to more pollution, more cancer, and expensive premature decommissioning that will cost you millions in extra dollars on your utility bills and leave behind more radioactive waste than ever before.

    • Voodude

      “so dirty MOX fuel will burn hotter, wearing steam generator tubes”


      Nuclear fuel (MOX or not MOX) does not affect temperature of the coolant.
      In a PWR, power is transferred from the fuel rods by high pressure water, which carries the heat energy to the primary side of the steam generator tubes. This water is precisely the same temperature, regardless of the nuclear fuel.

      • laureldefalco@gmail.com

        I am not a nuclear engineer. However, I do recall reading some document about a MOX fuel experiment at San Onofre. San Onofre, as we know, made the switch to the hotter high burnup fuel not knowing exactly what the result would be on the individual components of the reactor. It was a big human experiment, since that reactor was not designed for that particular fuel.
        Radiation causes metal to become brittle, so the more radiation there is, the faster it would degrade, one would think.

        • Voodude

          ”… MOX fuel experiment at San Onofre…not knowing exactly what the result would be on the individual components … It was a big human experiment, since that … was not designed for that … ”

          Ford Motor Company recently released an aluminum-framed truck, the new 2015 F-150. It is more than 300 kg lighter. In just the same fashion, you could say that about Ford:

          Ford released the 2015 F-150 truck, “not knowing exactly what the result would be on the individual components of the” truck. “It was a big human experiment, since that” truck “was not designed for that particular” metal.

          You make it sound like it had never been done before, and nobody knew what would happen… But, that isn’t the case. Many years were spent, considering how the Plutonium would behave (or how Aluminum can be used in a truck). The final product (MOX fuel assemblies, or, trucks), no matter how well-thought out, how thoroughly tested, would someday have to have its first use in a commercial reactor (or, a production run of trucks). This is, truthfully, “an experiment on humans”. You, and all of the industrial world, are at greater risk of death, injury etc from motor vehicles, than nuclear reactors.

        • Voodude

          ”Radiation causes metal to become brittle, so the more radiation there is, the faster it would degrade, …”

          The steam generator tubes are not subjected to any more, or any less, radiation, whether the fuel is MOX, or non-MOX.

          Neutron irradiation does cause metal to become brittle. Neutrons are abundant inside the reactor core and the pressure vessel. Neutron embrittlement is a serious concern for determining the useful life of the pressure vessel.

          Neutrons still exist in the primary coolant, as it is passed through the steam generator tubes, but no more so, if the fuel is MOX, than if it is non-MOX. The life of the tubes is more affected by corrosion and just the plain old wear and tear of having high pressure water squirted through it, and boiled, around it, than any consideration given to neutron embrittlement or radiation.

    • Voodude

      “Cancer was practically nonexistent before the nuclear age.”
      Prove it.

      • laureldefalco@gmail.com

        If I could post a photocomment, I would. I am not going to describe a chart. Cases of cancer prior to the atomic age were likely attributable to natural background radiation, which is responsible for nearly half of all irregularly inheritable afflictions by itself.

        • Voodude

          The ability to post graphics, in our comments, greatly enhances communication of our ideas. It is a shame that sites like this, ignore that fact.

        • Voodude

          ”…Cases of cancer prior to the atomic age were likely attributable to natural background radiation, …”

          Cancer has not shown much relationship to natural background radiation. It is unlikely that cancers, before the atomic age, or after, were significantly related to radiation exposure. Your attribution to “half of all” – I would relegate to “half of one percent, of all” … or even less. Off, by orders of magnitude.

          The atomic age has left an indelible impression on all lands and seas, all over the world. However, it is but a tiny, tiny fraction of the natural background radiation, except for a few small spots. The natural background radiation is significantly higher in some areas, than in others. Most of these are populated. Some are populated with a society that does not keep accurate records of residents or cancers, so the opportunity to study them is lost … but many are populated with modern societies that can figure out who lived in the high background radiation areas, and for how long … and who developed cancer, and who didn’t.

          Studies done on those modern societies show no increase of cancers.

          There are two camps of thought; one camp believes the linear, no-threshold theory of damage due to radiation. They measure radiation, and calculate the increased risk from the increase of radiation. The other camp observes actual cancers, calculates the cancer rate, compares that against a control population, and figures the significance of cancers to radiation.

          The first camp is alarmist. The second camp, not so much.

          Radiotherapy (cancer treatment using radiation) works because cells repair radiation damage. Treatment is done in little bits, over time, so patients’ healthy cells can recover, before the next treatment.

          Cancer is one disease that the world has no cure for. As we cure, or fix most of everything else, then it appears as if cancer were on the rise … Truth is, when people don’t die young, from car accidents (cars are a lot safer) or heart attacks, strokes, childhood diseases that we now have vaccines for … those folks, who benefitted from the modern medicine, will, unfortunately, probably get cancer. Everybody will die of something. Those who don’t die at age 60 from a heart attack, now die of cancer (well, something like that).

          The scaremongers who say that “no level of radiation is safe” just don’t have their acts together. Avoiding radiation exposure – especially in industrial-sized doses, is probably a good thing, and that attitude was introduced and accepted as a precaution … but, actual facts show that lowering your dose of radiation does not reduce cancer or make one live longer. People who lived hundreds of years ago were exposed to radiation doses pretty much like you or I have now. The “Atomic Age” hasn’t added much. Medical radiation is today’s largest dose, when averaged over the entire population. Where you live, and your lifestyle, changes your dose from the “world average” of 2 to 3, to easily 6, 10, or even 250 – the units are mSv.

          Orlando: about 3 mSv annually
          Denver: about 6 mSv – twice that of Florida
          Cervo Valley (Province of Verceli, Piemonte, Italy) – about 3X the normal dose
          Yangjiang, China (pop. 80,000) 35 mSv/year 12X
          Kerala, India (pop. 100,000), 38 mSv/year 12X
          Guarapari, Brazil (pop. 73,000), 50 mSv/year
          Ramsar in Iran, about 2000 people are exposed to at least 250 mSv/yr

          Studies of these places (Yangjian, Kerala, Guarapari, Ramsar) show no ill effects from living in the high-radiation ares. No increase in cancers, no genetic or birth defects.

  • Jeanne D Shaw

    More Uranium mining will only cause more harm to people in Africa, the US, Canada, and Australia, most of whom live in very poor communities (such as reservations) and do not benefit from any of it since the jobs it provides end up killing them, contaminating what water they have left, and harming their agriculture. Nuclear Power is NOT the answer to Climate Change.

    • Jag_Levak

      The McArthur River mine is the number 1 producer of uranium on Earth, and it looks like this:


      The whole complex out to the dirt margins occupies about 9/10th of a square kilometer.

      This is the Olympic Dam copper, uranium, silver, and gold mine in Australia:


      That is primarily a copper mine, but it is still the second largest source of uranium on the planet.

      Here is one small finger of the Garzweiler lignite mine in the German Rhineland:

      And here is one of the fleet of Bagger excavators which work the Rhineland mines:

      Garzweiler sprawls to over a hundred square kilometers, and it is just one of several large lignite mines of the Rhineland, which have a combined output of about 100 million tonnes per year. The current plan is to sustain that rate of production for the foreseeable future, and identified Rhineland reserves are large enough for about 350 years at that rate.

      The heat energy value of Rhineland lignite averages 9 megajoules per kilogram. The heat energy value from fissioning uranium or plutonium is around 80 million megajoules per kilogram. The heat energy of an entire year’s worth of Rhineland lignite could be equaled by fissioning 11.25 tonnes. That’s like half a day’s production from the comparatively tiny McArthur River mine. A whole year’s worth of uranium production could offset nearly 600 years of Rhineland lignite at its current production rate–i.e. nearly 70% more than all the identified Rhineland reserves found so far.

      Having said that, today’s reactors have poor thermal efficiency, and then they throw away more than 99% of the energy available in natural uranium, so there is a lot of untapped potential there. If we were to develop reactors which used all the fuel and had better efficiency, we wouldn’t need to increase the amount of uranium mining. And better efficiency could support higher uranium prices, making alternatives such as extraction from seawater viable, and that wouldn’t involve mining at all. And developing reactors which can consume thorium (which we wouldn’t need to mine because we currently throw it away as an undesirable byproduct) could also offset some of the demand for uranium.

      Nuclear power, in its present form, is clearly not the sole answer to climate change. But for all its problems (and mining is far from the biggest) it remains one of our largest and most dependable sources of low-carbon power. All of our low-carbon options have downsides, so eliminating any of them just because they have problems doesn’t seem like a productive way to address climate change. Maybe instead of ruling any of them out, we might get better results if we do what we can to improve all of them and let each contribute according to its ability.

  • ECPat

    I wonder whether the author has heard of Fukushima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island.

  • Vivienne Perkins

    Cravens is nuts. We need to recall that human beings lived for thousands of years on a viable planet that had few sources of energy. This planet cannot sustain the unbelievably wasteful globalized capitalist ‘economy’ we now live within in the “advanced” countries. We certainly cannot extend this lifestyle to every country. The biological systems upon which every human being, rich or poor, cannot live without will collapse and we will all be dead. Pope Francis is right; we arrogant human beings have to change. The “first nuclear age” as Alvin Weinberg called it has never solved the rad waste problem, and it won’t. The years of atmospheric testing between 1947-63 blanketed the entire planet with radioactivity. All reactors leak emissions and heated water that destroys marine life. We now have solar, wind, nat. gas and other sources; we must scale back the extravagant way we live and switch to these other sources if we expect to leave a living planet to our descendants–which, by the way, is our OBLIGATION.

  • Marushka France

    Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford — theSolutionsProject.org
    No fossil fuels and No nuclear – not needed at all. 100% Renewable Energy!
    The science is very through, developed carefully over years. Plans for the 50 US States have been completed. Plans for an additional 139 countries are being completed. Jacobson has testified before EPA, Congress… and much more

    “… presents a proposed solution to global warming and air pollution, namely, the conversion of the world’s energy infrastructure to a large-scale, clean, renewable one. Because air pollution and global warming, in particular, are so severe, a rapid and large-scale conversion is
    needed. The main barriers are not technical, resource based, or even economic. Instead, they are social and political. “
    ~ Mark Z. Jacobson, “Air Pollution and Global Warming: History, Science, and Solutions,” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2012. [2nd Ed]

    “Q: Why don’t the plans include power generation from nuclear energy plants?
    A: Nuclear energy is not included in the solution because it results in 9-25 times more carbon and air pollution than does wind energy per unit energy produced, partly due to the fossil energy used to mine and refine uranium continuously during the plant’s life, partly due to the
    construction of the plant, and partly due to the fact that the time between planning and operation of a new nuclear facility is 10-19 years, whereas that of the proposed technologies (wind, water, and sunlight) is much less, generally 2-5 years for wind and solar, resulting in opportunity-cost emissions from the background fossil-fuel energy sector during the period that nuclear is waiting to come online.
    In addition, nuclear poses catastrophic risks due to the historic worldwide relationship between nuclear energy facilities and nuclear weapons proliferation and due to nuclear reactor accidents. Further, in the U.S., radioactive waste currently accumulates at nuclear energy facilities, and no plan exists to store that waste permanently.”

    Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs) About 100% Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS)
    All-Sector Energy Plans for the 50 United States By Mark Z. Jacobson
    Atmosphere/Energy Program
    Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Stanford University

  • vlady47

    Trading CO2 for plutonium is ridiculous!

  • Nuclear energy is the equivalent to kicking the can down the road.

    Or, as the character “Wimpy” repeatedly says in the classic comic “Popeye” –

    “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

  • you beauty

    There is no such thing as safe base load power – in the past. But the world is changing rapidly and technologies are improving – don’t get stuck in the past! There a billions of people who still need energy – are you going to be the one who denies them this basic of all human rights? All this perceived hype about Nuclear Power is over played when you look at the World Health Organisations figures into deaths and sickness caused by power generation etc over the past 100 years. Coal, is the worst by far, followed by Oil and then Gas, even Hydro and Solar have a worst record than Nuclear!!!!!

  • SAME TEXT 83 4

    IF you don’t want your children, grandchildren and yourself exposed to MORE RADIATION, then you had better pay attention to this —>


  • SAME TEXT 83 4

    (1) Nuclear energy is NOT low carbon.

    Each nuclear power plant releases 90 to 140 grams of CO2 per kwh.

    PLUS, each nuclear power plant releases massive amounts of Radioactive Carbon-14 which is converted to CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Nuclear energy = Carbon 14 = CO2

    (2) Higher incidences of childhood leukemia are found around nuclear power plants.


    (3) Each nuclear power plant is a water hog, using up to 30 Million gallons of water per HOUR.

    Water is a precious resource and we cannot afford this.

    (4) Nuclear energy is the most expensive energy source, and the most subsidized energy source.

    (5) Every nuclear power plant releases dangerous cancer-causing radiation into the air and water during their “normal” operations.

    (6) There have been numerous accidents and incidents of near-misses.

    (7) Look at all of these reports of nuclear workers working under the influence of alcohol, etc.


    (8) See http://www.enenews.com to learn what happens when nuclear energy goes WRONG.
    Thank you.