Abundant, reliable, affordable energy makes our jobs, health, living standards and civil rights possible.
Remember that when you read about people losing their jobs or having to choose between heating, eating, paying the rent or mortgage, giving to charity, or covering healthcare, college, car or retirement costs. Remember it when Congress makes more hydrocarbon energy off limits – or puts more obstacles in the path of nuclear power that generates a fifth of America’s electricity.
I recently visited nuclear power plants and a fuel reprocessing plant in France, which gets almost 80% of its electricity from uranium. And I’ve read some shockingly ill-informed claims about nuclear power and its supposed alternatives. Here are some essential facts.
Reliability. Nuclear plants generate electricity over 90% of every year, shutting down only occasionally for maintenance, repairs and changing fuel rods. Wind turbines can be relied on just 30% of the time, on average – and just 10% of the time during hot summer days, when air conditioners are on high, but there’s barely a breeze.
Operational safety. Three Mile Island was the “worst accident in US history.” But it injured no one and exposed neighboring residents to the radioactive equivalent of getting a CT scan or living in Denver for a year. It led to major improvements in nuclear plant management, operation and training.
The Chernobyl disaster was due to its shoddy design, construction, maintenance and management. According to the World Health Organization, “fewer than 50” people died as a direct result of this massive meltdown and fire, and nearly all were employees and rescue workers.
Storage of used nuclear fuel. The Energy Department spent 25 years and $10 billion studying the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, before concluding that it will meet all safety standards. In fact, the largest expected annual radiation dose for someone living near this geologically stable site would be less than 1 millirem – compared to 1,000 millirem from an abdominal CT scan.
America’s 104 nuclear plants generate enough electricity for nearly 75,000,000 homes – and produce about 2,000 tons of “spent” uranium fuel annually. So Yucca will be able to hold all the used fuel from the past 50 years, plus another 35 years of used fuel, without expanding on the original design.
Spent fuel and other wastes (high-level defense wastes, plus low-level wastes like protective clothing) are solid materials. There is no liquid that can leak into rocks or groundwater. Liquid wastes, like water used in reactors, are treated and reused.