Nuclear Energy: Mankind’s Bane or Hope for the Future

Tony Goreczny, Staff Writer

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With rising gas prices, and dwindling fossil fuel resources, more people, companies and governments than ever before are looking to convert to current forms of alternative energy, or discover new ones. Of the myriad possibilities for our future energy supply, one of the most hotly debated is nuclear fission. While very few would doubt the cleanliness of it, many people are concerned with what they see as inherent safety issues. Events like Chornobyl and Fukushima have caused many people to become wary of nuclear energy.
These rare phenomena that occur infrequently they have a comparatively negligent effect when likened to other sources of power, but consequences are often drastically overstated and sensationalized by media outlets. This causes a disproportionate level of fear toward what is not only one of the cleanest, but also the singular safest form of viable energy production.
Since its inception, nuclear power has been supplying electricity continuously across the world for more than 60 years. The total number of number of nuclear fission plants has grown unceasingly, and even with the most recent incident in Japan, there are still over 200 plants in the construction or planning stages. During that time there have only been three major incidents. Of these three, only two were considered Level 7 events on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.
The first, and most infamous of these is the meltdown at Chornobyl. This is the one incident that all nuclear power opponents will reference. This is because it is the only one of any true consequence. Some sources claim nearly a million deaths resulted from the meltdown and residual radiation, but in reality the death toll was far lower. The official report, available on wolrd-nuclear.org, lists the primary casualties as combined total of 59. These were the workers who died in the initial explosions, and the emergency responders who received lethal doses of radiation. Additionally, there were about 4,000 deaths attributed to the radiation spread across the region by the wind and flowing water. While this is not doubt a tragic loss of life, it is clearly no where near a million souls.
Another reason why Chornobyl is not the harbinger of doom that many people have been led to believe is that it is incredibly unlikely it happen again, ever. The safety protocols in place were incredibly inadequate, even by 1980s standards.
Now I am sure most of you are wondering if this is impossible, what happened at Fukushima? The other indent that INES classified as a Level 7 event does have much in common with Chornobyl, mainly some notable design flaws and the tabloid journalism applied to the event by mainstream media. While the design flaws are not a grievous as the ones that plagued the Chornobyl reactor, it seems that the engineers lacked common sense. According to an article on theconversation.edu.au, not only were the emergency backup generators place in the basement when the are was know for flooding, but the flood wall was only 5.5 meters high, despite the fact that the same area has been hit by two tsunamis weighing in at 30 meters before the the plant was even built.
Approximately 20,000 people were killed when the earthquake and tsunami stuck. While this is a horrific loss of life, and a truly sorrowful disaster of epic proportions, most people will be truly perplexed by how many of these deaths were contributed to the power plant. A whopping five people were killed, and of these, an appalling zero died from radiation. One was crushed by a crane during the earthquake, two others were carried away by the tsunami, and another died of a heart attack. The last man’s death will remain a mystery, as the company won’t reveal any information except to confirm that it was not due to radiation.
This particular reactor was built in 1971, making it older than the Chornobyl reactor. Yet it was still able to survive an earthquake and a tsunami in quick succession, two of mother nature’s most brutal and destructive whims, without claiming a single life on its own. Needless to say, the reactors that are in production now are far more advanced and contain far more safety regulation than were present in the Fukushima reactor.
The final incident took place at Three Mile Island, not far from here, and was considered a Level 5 event. In this case a partial meltdown started, and the safeties that were in place engaged exactly as they were supposed, completely shutting down the reactor. Little to no radiation was released from the plant and absolutely zero deaths were involved. The only reason this incident is even worth mentioning is because it a perfect example of how well protected these systems are.
An Internet marketer named Seth Godin performed a study in 2008 on energy production methods and safety by comparing the deaths attributed to each and the energy it contributes, and made a surprising discovery. Out of all viable sources of energy, nuclear is, by no small margin, the least deadly. For every one person who is killed due to nuclear energy, 4,000 deaths are attributed to coal. That means that for each and every one of those 4,000 people who died at Chornobyl, coal has caused another 4,000 deaths each, or in other words, 4,000 Chornobyls.
In China, coal kills 500,000 people a year. To put it differently, in three days as many people will die in China from coal as have died in over 60 years across the entire world from nuclear energy. I find this both mind -boggling and disturbing. Coal isn’t the only culprit either. Oil kills 900 times, and biofuel 300 times the number of people nuclear energy kills per terawatt hour.
Even the next safest from of alternative energy, hydro-electricity, still kills more than twice as many people as nuclear power does, and these calculations include the deaths caused by Chornobyl. If Chornobyl had never happened, as it never should have, the number of deaths per terawatt hour due to nuclear energy would be a decimal followed by so many zeros that even the most insane math teach would tell you just to write zero.

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