An informed look at the myths and fears surrounding nuclear energy, and a practical, politically realistic solution to global warming and our energy needs. Faced by the world’s oil shortages and curious about alternative energy sources, Gwyneth Cravens skeptically sets out to find the truth about nuclear energy. Her conclusion: it is a totally viable and practical solution to global warming. In the end, we see that if we are to care for subsequent generations, embracing nuclear energy is an ethical imperative.Gwyneth Cravens on Why Going Green Means Going Nuclear“Most of us were taught that the goal of science is power over nature, as if science and power were one thing and nature quite another. Niels Bohr observed to the contrary that the more modest but relentless goal of science is, in his words, ‘the gradual removal of prejudice.’ By ‘prejudice,’ Bohr meant belief unsupported by evidence.”
–Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes, author of the introduction to Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy by Gwyneth Cravens “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
My book is fundamentally about prejudice based on wrong information. I used to oppose nuclear power, even though the Sierra Club supported it. By the mid-1970s the Sierra Club turned against nuclear power too. However, as we witness the catastrophic consequences of accelerated global temperature increase, prominent environmentalists as well as skeptics like me have started taking a fresh look at nuclear energy. A large percentage of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, that thaw Arctic ice and glaciers comes from making electricity, and we rely upon it every second of our lives. There are three ways to provide large-scale electricity—the kind that reliably meets the demands of our civilization around the clock. In the United States:
- 75% of that baseload electricity comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels, mainly coal, and emit carbon dioxide. Toxic waste from coal-fired plants kills 24,000 Americans annually.
- 5% comes from hydroelectric plants.
- Less than 1% comes from wind and solar power.
- 20% comes from nuclear plants that use low-enriched uranium as fuel, burn nothing, and emit virtually no CO2. In 50 years of operation, they have caused no deaths to the public.
- Nuclear power emits no gases because it does not burn anything; it provides 73% of America’s clean-air electricity generation, using fuel that is tiny in volume but steadily provides an immense amount of energy.
- Uranium is more energy-dense than any other fuel. If you got all of your electricity for your lifetime solely from nuclear power, your share of the waste would fit in a single soda can. If you got all your electricity from coal, your share would come to 146 tons: 69 tons of solid waste that would fit into six rail cars and 77 tons of carbon dioxide that would contribute to accelerated global warming.
- A person living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant receives less radiation from it in a year than you get from eating one banana. Someone working in the U.S. Capitol Building is exposed to more radioactivity than a uranium miner.
- Spent nuclear fuel is always shielded and isolated from the public. Annual waste from one typical reactor could fit in the bed of a standard pickup. The retired fuel from 50 years of U.S. reactor operation could fit in a single football field; it amounts to 77,000 tons. A large coal-fired plant produces ten times as much solid waste in one day, much of it hazardous to health. We discard 179,000 tons of batteries annually–they contain toxic heavy metals.
- Nuclear power’s carbon dioxide emissions throughout its life-cycle and while producing electricity are about the same as those of wind power.
- Nuclear plants offer a clean alternative to fossil-fuel plants. In the U.S. 104 nuclear reactors annually prevent emissions of 682 million tons of CO2. Worldwide, over 400 power reactors reduce CO2 emissions by 2 billion metric tons a year.