I knew the nuclear apologists would get around to making this argument sooner or later, and sure enough, The Washington Post published a thoughtful and well-researched article by David Brown on April 2, 2011, entitled, “Nuclear power is the safest way to make electricity, according to study.”
Brown made a good case for the overall safety of nuclear power plants as far as the workers are concerned. Coal-fired plants are responsible for five times as many deaths as nuclear-powered plants. Deaths from pollution caused by the burning of coal are probably uncountable, but studies claim they’re about 470 times higher, and if you lay the blame for climate change on the burning of fossil fuels, then you have to throw in numbers like the 30,000 people who died of heat-related illnesses in Europe in August of 2003, which brings the number even higher, and will no doubt continue to climb.
Then there is the whole life-cycle of fossil fuels like coal. Before the coal even gets to the plant, it has to be dug out of the ground, (6,000 mining-accident deaths a year in China. Wow! Can that figure be right? Sounds incredible.). Then the coal has to be transported by truck or rail or barge, all of which have to be powered one way or another, which adds to the pollution in the air. Speaking of air pollution, coal is really dirty. Have you ever wondered why the smokestacks at power plants are so high? It’s so the pollutants can be better dispersed by the winds. Can’t have all that stuff falling down around the plant; spread it out. Make a little acid rain somewhere else. Blow those particulates into the next county.
Okay, I get it. Not very many people have ever been killed by a nuclear plant meltdown. Just a few in Japan so far. Around 25 died at Chernobyl. And sure there was an increase in thyroid cancers in the areas around Chernobyl through the years, but that’s nothing like 6,000 people a year meeting their maker in a coal mine in China.
I will concede that all of this is probably true and all of it is well and good, BUT so far, no one has come up with a way to rid ourselves of the waste produced by using nuclear energy. This is a big, big problem, and we need to figure out a solution — and fast.
The French are recycling part of their spent material and burying the rest on-site at their power plants. That seems to be working for them, at least for now. The majority of their power comes from nuclear plants, and they don’t worry about it. I haven’t heard of many tidal waves or earthquakes in France though, have you?
So we’re not going to use Yucca Mountain for storage of nuclear waste. What’s the alternative? Where are we going to store this stuff? Does anyone have an answer?