No Green Future Without Nuclear
**Guest contributions to the ACC Blog represent the opinions of the individual writer and not necessarily ACC as a whole.
There’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that we are finally starting to see the effects of climate change in real, tangible, economic, and personal cost. Wildfires are raging across much of the North American west, and are even popping up in places like Sweden, somewhere with a thin history of wildfires on the scale of the ones they’ve seen this summer. The debate over the relationship between climate change and hurricane frequency is real, but most seem to agree that a warmer climate leads to bigger and wetter hurricanes that do more damage than previously.
While almost everyone agrees that cleaner energy is the solution to keeping down C02 levels and halting rising temperatures, almost the entire clean energy movement is focused on wind, solar, or even whackier forms of power like biofuels. These forms of power are great in their own right, but their implementation can be costly, and the question of what to do when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow is real. In short, the clean energy movement has a blind spot to a solution staring them right in the face: Nuclear energy.
I will be the first to admit that nuclear power has a huge perception issue; it’s hard to be positive when you share a scientific and technical background with the most destructive weapons ever created. Mention nuclear power to someone and they probably won’t think about how France, the country that has adopted nuclear power the most, has one of the lowest carbon emissions per capita of any developed country. Nor will they think of China, which is building and installing nuclear power plants at a furious rate as an alternative to the thousands of coal plants that make China’s skies famously smoggy. Instead, they’ll probably bring up the disasters of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima.
And they have a point. Those disasters were serious, and they did real damage. But, as a thought exercise, let’s look at the numbers. Chernobyl caused 31 direct deaths and 15 estimated indirect deaths. The EPA estimated that the Three Mile Island accident may have caused 1 additional death in surrounding area due to a higher chance of cancer for residents. Fukushima, likewise, caused 1 confirmed cancer-related death. Those three disasters, the most serious in nuclear history, caused at most around 50 deaths. Now let’s compare that to fossil fuels. The World Health Organization estimated in 2012 that the burning of fossil fuels and biomass causes around 3 million deaths worldwide per year (!). These numbers aren’t directly comparable, but they give you a good idea of the relative human cost associated with these types of power.
The well-informed nuclear critic might also bring up the issue of nuclear waste. It is dangerous, and it’s hard to decide where to put it, since depositing nuclear waste somewhere means effectively condemning that area to be a hazardous dumping ground for thousands of years. However, there is not that much of it. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that if you took all the nuclear waste produced in the past four decades it would cover an area the size of a football field about seven yards deep. If that sounds like a lot to some of you, think about how large the world is, and how much of it we are degrading and ruining by our use of fossil fuels.
If the choice is between choosing small sections of land to be set aside for nuclear waste and continuing to contribute to climate change and environmental degradation, then I emphatically choose the former. Nuclear is clean, reliable, and safe, and it deserves more recognition from the clean energy movement than it is getting.
Andrew Hudlow is a Senior finance major at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business. Andrew is a big believer in the power of market mechanisms like cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, and thinks that the conservative movement would greatly benefit from advocating market-based solutions to climate change.