In recent times Ms. Common Sense pointed to the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents and convinced most of us (this writer included) that nuclear energy as a power source is incompatible with a healthy environment. “It’s just too risky, a possible catastrophe!” she’s warned.
But Common Sense sometimes gives way to further analysis, scientific advancement, or actual demonstration as in the case of the now extinct passenger pigeon. Today’s challenges over energy use and climate disruption may give us reason to question Common Sense’s former message about nuclear energy. Could it be that catastrophic consequences would be more likely if we DON’T include sensible use of 21st century nuclear technology in our energy mix?
Consider a recent quillette.com article by Michael Shellenberger. He explains that the energy density of any fuel determines its environmental and health impacts. Fossil fuels, for example, have very low energy density. In contrast, uranium can produce one million times more heat per its mass than fossil fuels.
Renewables also have weak energy flows, so they have to be spread over enormous areas. It’s understandable that those concerned about the negative effects of fossil fuels have looked favorably toward renewables as the only and best alternative. They seem natural. However, even in sunny California, a solar farm requires 450 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant.
What about safety? Nuclear is arguably the best energy from an environmental perspective because it produces so little waste and its residue is contained. Since the 1960s, every major study finds nuclear is the safest way to make reliable electricity. (Maybe the least environmentally destructive also?) Nuclear plants already save lives that would have been lost to air pollution.
Wow! Shellenberger’s argument is one big kielbasa to chew on! In today’s energy and resource hungry world Common Sense advises, “Let’s wisely examine ALL options in building a healthy and prosperous future because this is the only home we’ll ever have. We’re all forever… Earthbound.”