The Continued Need for Nuclear Power Plants
To the Faculty Newsletter:
The suggestion by Prof. Emeritus Ernst Frankel in the November/December issue of the Faculty Newsletter regarding nuclear energy [“There is No More Need for Nuclear Power Plants in the USA”] could not be any more wrong. If we did not have nuclear power, we would have had to invent it in order to supply the future generations with an assured supply of energy without increasing the danger from global warming or making the electric grid highly unreliable. A review of the record of operating power plants in the U.S. would have informed him that the plants have been the electricity source with the highest reliability over the years. For example, the average capacity factor of nuclear plants in 2012 was about 85%, compared to only 55% for coal or gas with combined power cycle plants, 51% for hydro, 30% for wind, and 27% for solar.
The nuclear plants have to undergo periodic inspections to assure the integrity of operations. Their effluents of radioactivity have been kept at lower than the prescribed limits by a considerable margin. The U.S. plants have had to install measures to counter the loss of all means of electricity to power emergency pumps and valves, well before Fukushima. Objective assessment of the amount of radioactivity that Fukushima leaked to the atmosphere would have led him to conclude that under the worst of conditions, the health effects to the surrounding population is well below dangerous levels.
One should not rely on the headlines of ill-informed media outlets to judge the level of danger involved in industrial activity. Not a single death, even among the plant workers, resulted from radiation associated with the damaging event to three reactors in Fukushima. Just by comparison, the tsunami that crippled the three reactors killed nearly 20,000 people in the affected coastal area.
The reference to recent reports on long-term effects of radioactivity is baffling to me. If anything, several studies of the health effects of low levels of radiation around nuclear facilities, among the residents of high altitude locations such as Denver, and even among airline pilots who get much higher doses than the average citizen, all cannot detect any increase of diseases that might be caused by radiation.
I, for one, would not want to have a much higher reliance on natural gas among our electricity supply. Such a source cannot be stored near the plants, and make our electricity supply highly vulnerable to natural disasters and terrorist actions much less daring than the sort that Professor Frankel is worried about.