The Current Situation
The commercial nuclear power industry has one major problem – the lack of understanding by non-nuclear educated individuals. There is no doubt that the commercial nuclear power industry perception took a negative hit after the Fukushima disaster that occurred on March 11, 2011. Most articles classify this event as a nuclear disaster, but it was a natural disaster. The most powerful earthquake that was ever recorded in Japan created a tsunami that was 13-14 meters tall which caused damage to the nuclear power plant. This created a ‘beyond design bases’ event that resulted in core damage and some radiation leakage due to damage to the backup generators. There were no deaths reported from acute radiation syndrome but deaths due to displacement and the tsunami itself are reported to be in the tens of thousands. Even with those facts, people still covet waterfront properties and fear nuclear power.
I use Fukushima as an example of the difficulty facing nuclear power to educate the general public and mitigate the fears associated with nuclear power plants. The situation is repeating itself now. The media is using fear of nuclear power to sensationalize the situation and generate fear in Ukraine. This is addressed by a recent Canadian Nuclear Association article titled “Zaporizhzhia is not Chernobyl”. The news media insists on stating the dangers of a nuclear ‘explosion’ at Zaporizhzhia, but an article by the World Nuclear Association states: “It should be emphasized that a commercial-type power reactor simply cannot under any circumstances explode like a nuclear bomb – the fuel is not enriched beyond about 5%, and much higher enrichment is needed for explosives.” Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors
Well-respected personalities, organizations, and government entities put out articles, studies, and facts about commercial nuclear power:
An article by the US Department of Energy, “3 Reasons Why Nuclear is Clean and Sustainable”, in March of 2021 discusses how clean nuclear power generation is and how it is vital to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The UK government put out a report on the effects of low-dose radiation from nuclear power plants as compared to other sources of radiation that we are exposed to Nuclear Energy and Health: And the Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation Hormesis – PMC (nih.gov)
Even Bill Gates is backing nuclear power generation through his involvement with TerraPower, a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) company. He wrote an article supporting nuclear power for CNBC: Bill Gates: Nuclear power will ‘absolutely’ be politically acceptable (cnbc.com)
The media, opposition groups, and Hollywood are very vocal about their position:
Greenpeace International put out this article citing “6 reasons why nuclear energy is not the way to a green and peaceful world”. I find it interesting that their first ‘myth’ references that nuclear energy delivers too little to matter, yet they do not provide any alternatives or speak to the availability (capacity factor) or wind and solar, which is much lower than nuclear power.
A BLOG written and published on a European Union (Brussels) web page cites: “The 7 reasons why nuclear energy is not the answer to solve climate change”. There are some truths in this blog, but there is also sensationalism and exaggeration. This is a common theme when discussing nuclear power as an answer for net zero by 2050. An example of this is the 19 years they claim from planning-to-operation (PTO) to have a new nuclear generation online. This has been true for some large projects, but they fail to take advanced and small modular reactors into consideration. Many companies, such as NuScale, are very close to starting commercial operations with a much shorter PTO time. Another item they failed to consider is adding capacity (more megawatts) by completing upgrades to existing plants like Bruce Power (8 units) in Bruce County, Ontario, Canada. Bruce Power plans to increase site output to 7000 Megawatts (MW) by 2030, up from 6300 MW in 2016.
Hollywood has jumped on the nuclear bandwagon with HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries and Netflix’s dramatization of the accident at Three Mile Island in ‘Meltdown: Three Mile Island’. The Chernobyl miniseries seemed to just tell the story with some embellishments for a drama series, while the Three Mile Island documentary proved to be more fiction than fact as outlined in this article: Meltdown: Drama disguised as a documentary — ANS / Nuclear Newswire.
Balanced or just facts
There are some journalists who do their best to accumulate facts and just present them or at least look at both sides. Nature.com released ‘Nuclear power can help the democratic world achieve energy independence’ in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The article acknowledges accidents at nuclear power plants but it also looks at promising new technologies.
The Office of Nuclear Energy in the United States put out an article in March of 2021 that lists the advantages and challenges of nuclear power: ‘Advantages and Challenges of Nuclear Energy’. This article is factual and to the point.
I am obviously pro-nuclear, which you can tell by my profile and work history. I have been involved with nuclear power generation since 1988. The main problem, as I see it, is the education of the general worldwide public on the safety of nuclear power and the need to embrace this form of generation to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
We have a long way to go, as evidenced by this article by the Pew Research Center: ‘Americans continue to express mixed views about nuclear power’. The article states that “Around a third of U.S. adults (35%) say the federal government should encourage the production of nuclear power, while about a quarter (26%) say the government should discourage it. Another 37% say the federal government should neither encourage nor discourage the production of nuclear power.”
So how can we increase the positive perception of nuclear power? First, those who have a deep understanding of the safety of nuclear power plants should use facts when discussing with friends, co-workers, and relatives. Try not to get emotional when someone drags you into a debate. We should not shy away from the challenges facing nuclear power. Instead, acknowledge them as challenges instead of explaining them away. Also, share articles from well-respected government agencies, science groups, and news outlets, such as this Bloomberg article: ‘Abandoning Nuclear Power Would Be Europe’s Biggest Climate Mistake – Bloomberg’. You could also download and share the pdf put out by the International Atomic Energy Agency, titled ‘Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World’.
The time is right to spread the word. The war in Ukraine has jolted the European Union into the dangers of relying on their neighbors for energy. Climate change has created a sense of urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which has shifted some prior opponents of nuclear power to see it as the most likely way to achieve our worldwide goal of net zero by 2050 (See NPR’s article, Nuclear power is gaining support after years of decline. But old hurdles remain).
I hope that all of us who believe in nuclear power technology as the answer to worldwide issues continue to do our best to educate the general public. Our grandchildren’s future may depend on it.