Nuclear Energy for Earth Day

by Beth Piper

When Earth Day rolls around on April 22, it marks an opportunity for us to consider our relationship to the natural world, and how we can improve that relationship. The first Earth Day in 1970 signalled the first serious push by ecological activists to influence mainstream public opinion. From its initial beginnings in just the United States, Earth Day has grown until it’s now observed in almost 200 countries.

The event has served to demonstrate to public officials the widespread concern for the welfare of the planet held by ordinary citizens. Indeed, it was in the same year that Earth Day first began that the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection was inaugurated by President Nixon. By highlighting the importance of recycling, cutting air pollution, eliminating the use of chlorofluorocarbons, and other ecological concerns, Earth Day has served to spur government officials to action.

While we work to perfect pollution-free, clean energy infrastructure, such as solar panels and wind turbines, we ought not to neglect the role that nuclear power can play in meeting our energy demands. While nuclear power often gets bad press because of a few high-profile incidents over the decades, the truth is that atomic energy is much safer than petroleum or coal-generated energy. The toxic pollution created by coal- and oil-fired plants actually kills and injures many more people than do rare nuclear energy mishaps. The space requirements of nuclear plants are but a fraction of the vast amounts of land required for the installation of solar photovoltaic arrays and wind-harnessing equipment. It’s true that some waste is generated during nuclear fission, but the quantities of waste products so released are miniscule and easily contained as opposed to the voluminous emissions generated by dirtier forms of energy generation.

The past year has seen public opinion shift in favor of decisive action to halt the deleterious effects of the heating of the earth’s atmosphere. Still, a lot of work needs to be done to convince ordinary people of the benefits of expanding our use of nuclear technology. In 2014, dozens of scientists published an open letter saying that nuclear energy “could…make a major, and perhaps, leading, contribution” to energy production going forward. This issue may become the next battleground of public environmental awareness and policy-making.

Every nuclear plant that’s kept in healthy operating condition means less pollution, fewer greenhouse gases, and more clean power for society. In recent years, state and federal mandates and incentives have encouraged growth in solar and wind, and statistics from ElectricityCompanies.org indicate that energy production solar and wind were at record highs in 2015. Still, nuclear power generates nearly 20 percent of all U.S. electricity currently whereas solar still sits at one percent. As a cost-effective, green, and reliable form of energy production, nuclear power could be the key to meeting our energy requirements in the medium term. Hoping expectantly for a future filled with sustainable electronics, economic prosperity, and comfortable temperatures is useless without a bridge to get us from where we are today to where we want to be tomorrow. As we reflect on this year’s Earth Day holiday, it’s important to understand how far nuclear energy has already taken us while recognizing the crucial role it plays in securing our clean energy future.

Editor's Note: For more information:  The American Nuclear Society has published official Position Statements on Sustainable Development and on Nuclear Energy's Role in Climate Change Policy.
When posting your positive thoughts today in honor of Earth Day, please remember to use the hashtags #EarthDay and #ParisAgreement. Let's get our #pronuclear messages out there!

Ms. Piper is a science author from Chicago, Ill., with a strong interest in nuclear power as a clean energy source.

3 thoughts on “Nuclear Energy for Earth Day

  1. Ike Bottema

    Great comments worthy of an article itself Asteroid Miner! I trust you won’t mind if I make use of your comments elsewhere? :)

  2. Mitch

    Good job Asteroid Miner! Now if only the media would just pickup on all that instead of celebrating Earth Day with bike-ins and tree-dressed dog walks. Noticed how much nuclear was mentioned at Kerry’s Paris Earth Day address and zero nuclear commitments? Is it any wonder most folks think nuclear is a pariah?

  3. Asteroid Miner

    It is necessary to do 2 things: Point out the danger from wind and solar, and point out that devils, witches, and curses are not involved with nuclear. Yes, the average person is so incredibly uneducated as to think every wrong thing, no matter how clearly absurd. There is no point in making nuclear safer when nuclear is already too safe when compared to the alternatives.

    Radiation has always been all around you and your distant ancestors, thousands of years ago.
    WHERE DID NATURAL BACKGROUND RADIATION COME FROM?

    The visible universe [ignoring dark matter and dark energy] started out with only 3 elements: hydrogen, helium and lithium. All other elements were made in stars or by supernova explosions. Our star is a seventh generation star. The previous 6 generations were necessary for the elements heavier than lithium to be built up. Since heavier elements were built by radiation processes, they were very radioactive when first made.

    Our planet was made of the debris of a supernova explosion that happened about 5 billion years ago. The Earth has been decreasing in radioactivity ever since. All elements heavier than nickel were necessarily made by accretion of mostly neutrons but sometimes protons onto lighter nuclei. The original nickel was radioactive and decayed to cobalt, then iron. Radioactive decays were necessary to bring these new nuclei into the realm of nuclear stability. That is why all rocks are still radioactive. The supernova made all radioactive elements including plutonium, cesium 137, etcetera.

    Radiation also comes from outer space in the form of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays come from supernovas that are very far away. There will always be cosmic rays.

    Again: 4 Billion years ago, the Earth was a lot more radioactive than it is today. There is no place in or on Earth or in space where there is no radiation. There never was.

    ========

    Caithness Windfarm Information Forum at http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf

    provides information on the deaths and injuries to humans caused by wind turbines. “11 December 2011 the Daily Telegraph reported that RenewableUK confirmed that there had been 1500 wind turbine accidents and incidents in the UK alone in the past 5 years. Data here reports only 142 UK accidents from 2006-2010 and so the figures here may only represent 9% of actual accidents.”

    CWIF says the wind industry had, to their knowledge, 102 fatal accidents resulting in 136 deaths of humans. “17 bus passengers were killed in one single incident”

    From Treehugger:
    Summary of Wind Turbine Incidents (December 2008): 
 41 Worker Fatalities, 16 Public- Includes falling from turbine towers and transporting turbines on the highway.
 39 Incidents of Blade Failure- Failed blades have been known to travel over a quarter mile, killing any unfortunate bystanders within its path of destruction.
 110 Incidents of Fire- When a wind turbine fire occurs, local fire departments can do little but watch due to the 30-story height of these turbine units. The falling debris are then carried across the distance and cause new fires.
 60 Incidents of Structural Failure- As turbines become more prevalent, these breakages will become more common in public areas, thereby causing more deaths and dismemberment’s from falling debris.
 24 incidents of “hurling ice”- Ice forms on these giant blades and is reportedly hurled at deathly speeds in all directions. Author reports that some 880 ice incidents of this nature have occurred over Germany’s 13-years of harnessing wind power.

    An older case from Germany:  The whole machine on top came off and flew ⅓ mile like a helicopter.  That was years ago with a much smaller machine.

    ========

    Reference book: “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart. The fear started thousands or millions of years ago with the fear of witches, wizardry, magic etc. The design of the human brain is very bad. See “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.

    “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart needs “Religion Explained” as background. A lot of modern first world people do magical thinking rather than logical or scientific thinking [not all logical thinking is scientific]. That is, they think of technology and things they don’t understand as magic. That is especially true of anything “nuclear.”

    The US government did a lot of propagandizing about nuclear things in the 1950s. Some US government officials used secrecy as an instrument of political power at the same time. The secret is:

    THERE ARE NO SECRETS.

    Nature is an open book. Nature is the same everywhere. Any country with enough money, sanity, scientists and uranium can make a nuclear bomb. Most that could, chose not to. Iran seems to be stuck by a lack of something cultural. Uranium is mineable in most countries and we know how to get uranium out of ocean water.

    There is no possible way that a reactor could ever become a nuclear bomb. Chernobyl did not. I will have to tell you a little about how to make a bomb to explain the difference. Nothing classified.

    All of Generation 4 reactors are intrinsically safe, relying only on Nature for safety. Spent fuel is fuel for Generation 4 Integral Fast Reactor. Read the book: “Prescription for the Planet” by Tom Blees, 2008; and read
    http://BraveNewClimate.com
    free download:
    http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/prescription-for-the-planet.html

    ======

    Interesting video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ6aL3wv4v0

    Wade Allison. “Radiation and Reason, The impact of Science on a culture of fear” by Wade Allison. The Wade Allison in England, not the other Wade Allison at Harvard.
    http://www.radiationandreason.com/
    Professor Allison says we can take up to 10 REMs per month, a little more than 1000 times the present “legal” limit. The old limit was 5 rems/lifetime. A single dose of 800 rems could kill you, but if you have time to recover between doses of 10 rems, no problem. It is like donating blood: You see “4 gallon donor” stickers on cars. You know they didn’t give 4 gallons all at once. There is a threshold just over 10 rems/month. You are getting .35 rems/year NATURAL background radiation right where you are right now if you are where I am.

    Natural Background Radiation is radiation that was always there, 1000 years ago, a million years ago, etc. Natural Background Radiation comes from the rocks in the ground and from exploding stars thousands of light years away. All rocks contain uranium. Radon gas is a decay product of uranium.

    ======

    Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person’s head isn’t public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or with another instrument.]
    Science is a simple faith in Scientific experiments and a simple absolute lack of faith in everything else.
    “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul 1980 University of California Press. In this book on the Eloges of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1699-1791) page 99 says: “Science is not so much a natural as a moral philosophy”. [That means drylabbing [fudging data] will get you fired.]
    Page 106 says: “Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority.”

    =======

    In the book: “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin & Heidi Toffler 2006 Chapter 19, FILTERING TRUTH, page 123 lists six commonly used filters people use to find the “truth”. They are:
    1. Consensus
    2. Consistency
    3. Authority
    4. Mystical revelation or religion
    5. Durability
    6. Science

    As the Tofflers say: “Science is different from all the other truth-test criteria. It is the only one that itself depends on rigorous testing.” They go on to say: “In the time of Galileo . . . the most effective method of discovery was itself discovered.” [Namely Science.] The Tofflers also say that: “The invention of scientific method was the gift to humanity of a new truth filter or test, a powerful meta-tool for probing the unknown and—it turned out—for spurring technological change and economic progress.” All of the difference in the way we live now compared to the way people lived and died 500 years ago is due to Science. The other truth filters have contributed misery, confusion, war, fanaticism, persecution, terrorism, inquisitions, suicide bombings, false imprisonments, obesity, diabetes and other atrocities.

    I find no reason to believe or even bother to debate any pronouncements that come from the methods other than Science. Often we are forced to behave according to the other truth filters to our detriment. To live long and prosper far into the future, we must overcome the other truth filters and convert everybody to Science. In doing so, we will become worthy of the presently hubris-filled name “Homo Sapiens”.

    ========

    Sacre [holier than thou] innumerate humanitologists must not be allowed to interfere with this program.

    The liberal arts are obsolete. Art can be used to unglue your brain from time to time to improve creativity, but most creativity today is in science and engineering.

    In a technological society, all citizens need to know a great deal of science. Notice how many people get the wrong answer on nuclear power because they haven’t studied the science and math.   All high school students should be required to take 4 years of physics, 4 years of chemistry, 4 years of biology and 8 years [double classes] of math.   Probability and statistics should be included starting in the third grade. See Kitty Lit book “Probability,” where mice toss coins to make a histogram. I read it to my daughter when she was 8 years old and my daughter made a histogram.

    If high school students are required to take 4 years of English, 4 years of history, etcetera, then balance means 4 years of physics, 4 years of chemistry, 4 years of biology and 4 years of math. But math is the basis/language required for everything else.

       In college, Everybody, regardless of major, should be required to take the Engineering and Science Core Curriculum [E&SCC] plus a laboratory probability and statistics course plus more physics lab courses plus one course in computer programming.

    E&SCC = 2 years of calculus at the college level, 2 years of physics and 1 year of chemistry. All engineering and science students are required to take the E&SCC in their freshman and sophomore years.

    Getting correct answers requires doing math.

    Most people, including people with college degrees in subjects other than science and engineering, use their emotions [emote] when they should be doing math. Most people are afraid of nuclear power because they do not understand it. Nor do they know how to think rather than emote [have emotional reactions]. “To think” means “to do math.”

    Reference: Sam Harris’ latest book “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”

    “The Science of Good & Evil” by Michael Shermer

    The entire new science called Sociobiology. The origin of the universe, Earth, life, humans and moral instincts are now solidly in the jurisdiction of Science.

    Moral and ethical instincts: See Sociobiology or ScioBio. The Library of Congress had more than 340 books, etc on the subject of Sociobiology. Books include:

    “The genetics of altruism” by Scott A. Boorman, Paul R. Levitt.
    “Genes, mind and culture” by Edward O. Wilson

    The Library of Congress
    URL: http://www.loc.gov/

    The Brights project on ethics and morality without god.
    http://the-brights.net/

    Yes, ethics and morality are now solidly within the jurisdiction of science. That means that ethics and morality are no longer in the jurisdictions of religion and philosophy. Ethical Engineering will soon be a mathematical branch of engineering with ethical equations.

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