Nuclear Energy: Friend or Foe?

By Joe Palumbo

When you hear the words “nuclear power”, what comes to mind? An atomic bomb? Toxic waste? A radioactive meltdown?

I hope to convince you the reader, especially those of you who care deeply about environmental issues, that nuclear energy is the greatest solution to the problem of climate change that continues to devastate our planet. The science is clear, climate change is very real and a very serious existential threat. It is also clear that the coal and gas we use to power our houses and cities are among the greatest contributors to this problem. Nuclear power, on the other hand, has zero carbon emissions and waste (while still an issue by itself) is far more effectively managed.

In the United States, the fuels used to power our cities are the biggest source of pollution, second only to our military. The common solution offered by environmental groups is to replace these fuels with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. While these sources have their place in a greener future, they will not be enough to solve the climate crisis nor meet our country’s energy needs.

Even though there are only 58 nuclear power plants in the US (Compared to 241 coal plants, 2,500 solar farms, and 58,000 wind turbines) nuclear energy powers 20% of our nation’s electrical grid. In France, over 70% of electricity is derived from nuclear energy. France is not only hailed as one of the greenest countries on Earth, but it also remains one of the largest net exporters of electricity in the entire world.

In conventional media coverage, nuclear plants seem to make headlines in the event of a disaster: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Not a single person died in the Three Mile Island accident and only 1 person died from the disaster at Fukushima. I won’t sugarcoat Chernobyl (hundreds have died either directly or from the fallout), but this was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated by inadequately trained personnel.

When we learned to split the atom, the world experienced great optimism and great fear at the same time. The applications of this new form of energy were still yet to be fully understood. Now, in the 21st century, our understanding has developed by leaps and bounds. Our fears have been put to the test and I say our optimism needs to come back.

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