Democrats have called climate change this generation’s WWII, indicating that in order to stop it, we need to mobilize as a global force. I think Democrats need to follow their metaphor to the natural conclusion: just as we ended WWII, we can end climate change. That’s right, drop the nukes!
I am, of course, talking about nuclear power. I recently made a tongue-in-cheek comment on the Twitter about nuclear being a better alternative to wind after CNN posted an article about a wind turbine collapsing in New York causing some minor property damage. I found it ironic that a wind turbine would collapse under the stress of 15-20 mph winds. You know, that thing it needs to function. My comment elicited some responses about nuclear I found quite alarmist. I am no expert on nuclear power, and like most people, I can name three nuclear disasters: Chernobyl, 3 Mile Island, and Fukushima. I have listened to Mike Shellenberger, a nuclear and environmental activist who does a good job of explaining away some of the alarm, but beyond this I knew very little. So, I did some perusing and found the truth about nuclear.
Since 1957 there have been 78 deaths related to nuclear power plants. Nuclear power can be terrifying. The shadows left in Nagasaki and Hiroshima are testaments to this with an estimated death toll of up to 317,000. Nuclear power plants, however, are much less sinister when you look at the numbers. Especially when, of the 78 deaths, 62 are from Chernobyl in 1986, a crisis made worse due to its mishandling by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Most incidents have had zero fatalities and those that do are usually one to three.
It is difficult to account for all casualties related to nuclear disaster, however some have estimated the total number of casualties from Chernobyl would be in the millions when considering the longer term effects of extensive radiation. Epidemiological studies will need to be conducted to determine the complete scope. The Fukushima disaster also falls into the category of unknowns. For background, in 2011, the plant had three of its reactors working when an earthquake struck. The plant shut down its remaining reactors but when a tsunami hit, it overcame the seawalls and flooded the plant,shutting down the emergency generators and causing damage and necessitating the evacuation of the area. There were two fatalities from the flooded reactor, and one payout to an individual with cancer. Long-term effects are of course harder to prove, but an increased cancer rate in areas surrounding reactors would likely increase the overall number of fatalities.
Any nuclear accident is bad and to be avoided, but we can’t look at nuclear in a vacuum; how many people die in other fields of energy? Oil rigs accounted for 1189 deaths from 2003-2013 and coal around 20 per year since 2011. Hydroelectric is one of the least safe forms of energy due to catastrophic disasters caused by flooding – the Banqiao dam failure in China led to the deaths of 171,000 people. Forbes lays out the relative dangers in the “Deathprint for Energy,” where they use epidemiological studies to try to account for the long-term effects of problems with energy, in which nuclear power is still the safest.
The key difference between nuclear and the energy sources listed above is nuclear has zero carbon emissions. It is clean energy that does not rely on the presence of wind or sun. It is not to say that wind and solar cannot be adjuncts, but if they are not producing enough energy to sustain the community, you need to have an energy source to continue to generate power.
Because of the fears surrounding nuclear, it is not heavily used in any country with the exception of France. However, that has not stopped the technology from progressing. New fuels and reactors that decrease waste and increase safety are in the works. Reactors are getting smaller, meaning they can generate 1,000 MWe of power on less than one percent of the land area as wind and solar farms
As has been demonstrated, nuclear is the most productive, cleanest, and safest form of energy – Fukushima was 40 years old and it still took two natural disasters to knock it out! The disasters nuclear sees have so far paled in comparison to the worst hydroelectric disasters and, at a yearly rate, are nowhere close to oil and coal. If you are serious about reducing emissions or just want to see less pollution, go ahead and treat the climate like its WWII and nuke it into submission.