The Green Atom 

Our most misunderstood power source

July 2021

Script

Click to reveal bonus content (fun facts and additional insights) within script.

 

Three Mile Island.

Chernobyl.

Fukushima.

The very mention of them conjures up visions of terror. Radiation. Meltdowns. Utter catastrophe.

Those disasters are all part of the story of how nuclear power became...the safest energy source known to man.i

[I’m sorry. Hang on one second. Guys, this is the wrong copy. It says nuclear is the safest form of power.

...INDISTINCT CHATTER...

It what? You’re sure? Because if this is wrong, someone’s getting fired again.]

Ok, I am being told this is not an error. So, um, this should be interesting.

If you’re an American under the age of about 50, then for most of your lifetime nuclear power has either been regarded as a menace, or as a joke.

Either way, you’re probably vaguely aware you’re supposed to be scared of it. Why is that exactly?

Well, for years, critics of nuclear energy warned that the technology was dangerous: that meltdowns could result in widespread deaths, radiation exposure, or even deadly explosions.

Then, when crisis hit at places like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and Fukushima, it seemed like those critics had been right all along.

But were they?

Three Mile Island is often referred to as the worst nuclear disaster in American history—but, as disasters go, it was pretty underwhelming. No one died. Or was injured. Or even had any adverse health effects. Locals’ exposure to radiation was about 1/3 what you’d get on a cross-country flight.ii

At Fukushima, the levels of radiation were so low that the United Nations reported that the mental health of those who had been evacuated was a bigger health concern than cancer.iii

Chernobyl was a different story. It was a genuine disaster, and the radiation did lead to deaths —but the problem there wasn’t about nuclear power itself. Officials in the Soviet Union knew the plant had dangerous design flaws but refused to fix them. Then they covered up the accident and delayed warning locals to evacuate.iv And it’s worth noting: it took a situation that extreme to produce the only deaths from radiation in the entire history of commercial nuclear power .

Now maybe you’re thinking even one death is too many, and that sounds reasonable...except you know what power source is more dangerous than nuclear? Literally all of them.v

When you add up industrial accidents and the effects of pollution, nuclear is safer than coal or petroleum or natural gas.vi In fact, more Americans have fallen off roofs installing solar panels than have been killed by nuclear power.vii And as for nuclear waste—that’s never killed or injured anyone either.viii

So why does any of this matter?

Because nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon dioxide.

It’s America’s single largest source of clean energy, responsible for 52% of the country’s carbon-free electricity.ix

But partly because of the fear factor, nuclear plants all around the country are closing.

Now maybe this doesn’t sound like that big a deal. If we want clean energy, we can just get it from wind or solar, right? Well, yeah, unless you’re listening to those cranks at...MIT...who found that only with resources like nuclear in the mix can we do widescale carbon reductions while still keeping energy affordable and keeping the lights on.x

We can see this in Europe: Since the year 2000, Germany has been eliminating nuclear power and emphasizing wind and solar. Next door in France, meanwhile, they still get over 70% of their energy from nuclear. The result: France’s electricity costs are about half of Germany’s. And Germany’s emissions are 10 times as high as France’s.xi

When asked about Germany’s experiment, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “They worsened their CO2 footprint, it wasn’t good for the planet. So I won’t do that.”xii

Ouch. When you’re getting lectured on efficiency by the French...maybe time to start thinking twice?

Could the same thing happen in the United States? It already is. When nuclear plants were prematurely closed in California, New Jersey, and Vermont, all those states had to rely instead on energy sources that caused their carbon emissions to spike. xiii

But with different policies, the effects could go the other way. Take California, for example.

The Golden State is often considered a leader in clean energy...but one analysis found that if California had dedicated the amount of money it’s spent on wind and solar since 2001 to nuclear instead, it could have generated 100% of the state’s electricity carbon-free.xiv

Nuclear power isn’t without challenges. It’s expensive and time-consuming to build. In some cases, it may require subsidies to compete with wind and solar, which already receive heavy taxpayer support. And many people are still scared of it. But it could also totally reshape the way we power our economy. And it might just save the planet in the process.

[Alright guys, I apologize. That was actually interesting. The thing about the French was a little rough though.]

Sources

  1. “Electricity Generation and Health” (Anil Markandya and Paul Wilkinson— The Lancet
  2. Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident — United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  3. Sources, Effects, and Risks of Ionizing Radiation (Pg. 10, #40) — United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation
  4. Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident — United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  5. The Complete Case for Nuclear — Environmental Progress
  6. Mortality Rate Worldwide in 2012, by Energy Source — Statista
  7. “The Nuclear Option” — City Journal  
  8. A Historical Review of the Safe Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel — U.S. Department of Energy 
  9. 5 Fast Facts About Nuclear Energy — U.S. Department of Energy
  10. The Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Resources in Deep Decarbonization of Power Generation (Nestor A. Sepulveda, Jesse D. Jenkins, Fernando J. de Sisternes, Richard K. Lester) — Joule  
  11. Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All by Michael Shellenberger
  12. “Nuclear, Renewables to Help French C02 Reduction Goals, Macron Says — Reuters
  13. “One Year After Oyster Creek Shutdown, 3.1 Million Tons of New Carbon Emissions” — NJ Spotlight News
  14. With Nuclear Instead of Renewables, California & Germany Would Already Have 100% Clean Energy (Mark Nelson and Madison Czerwinski) — Environmental Progress 

Shownotes

SOUND ARTLIST: G-YERRO, FAMILY KUSH, JULIEN MATTHEY, DB STUDIOS, JULIEN MATTHEY, GAIN WALKERS, DARUMA AUDIO, THE HAZELNUTS, BOOM LIBRARY, NENOR, GURFI 

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Sources

  1. The Lancet
    “Electricity Generation and Health” (Anil Markandya and Paul Wilkinson)
  2. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident 
  3. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation
    Sources, Effects, and Risks of Ionizing Radiation (Pg. 10, #40)
  4. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Backgrounder on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident 
  5. Environmental Progress
    The Complete Case for Nuclear
  6. Statista
    Mortality Rate Worldwide in 2012, by Energy Source 
  7. City Journal
    “The Nuclear Option”
  8. U.S. Department of Energy
    A Historical Review of the Safe Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel
  9. U.S. Department of Energy
    5 Fast Facts About Nuclear Energy 
  10. Joule
    The Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Resources in Deep Decarbonization of Power Generation (Nestor A. Sepulveda, Jesse D. Jenkins, Fernando J. de Sisternes, Richard K. Lester)
  11. Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All 
    by Michael Shellenberger
  12. Reuters
    “Nuclear, Renewables to Help French C02 Reduction Goals, Macron Says
  13. NJ Spotlight News
    “One Year After Oyster Creek Shutdown, 3.1 Million Tons of New Carbon Emissions”
  14. Environmental Progress
    With Nuclear Instead of Renewables, California & Germany Would Already Have 100% Clean Energy (Mark Nelson and Madison Czerwinski)

Delve Deeper

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