Unfounded fear of nuclear power cannot hold back climate progress
While conversations on the merits of fracking and renewable energies are important, they don’t tell the whole story about energy innovation in this country. In the fight against climate change, our biggest priority must be reducing emissions. When we’re talking about reducing emissions, we would be remiss not to mention the world’s largest source of clean energy: nuclear power.
There is no way forward in significantly reducing carbon emissions without embracing nuclear power. Nuclear plants have the capability to generate clean energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Weather and geography are not prohibiting factors when it comes to nuclear as they are with some renewable sources.
Despite the constant innovation making nuclear power safe, according to Pew Research, 49 percent of Americans oppose the use of increased nuclear energy. On this topic, we must be careful to separate reason and emotion. While dramatic, apocalyptic tales from Hollywood may make for great entertainment value, these shows exaggerate the dangers of nuclear and instill fear into what is otherwise a safe and advanced technology.
The truth is that over 17,000 cumulative years of nuclear use across 33 nations, we have had only three major nuclear incidents. The first, Three Mile Island, was contained and harmed no one. The second, Chernobyl, was not contained due to an intense fire, and 31 lives were lost. Two from the blast, and another 29 who would not have been exposed to radiation were it not for the fire. Finally, the third, Fukushima, was caused by an earthquake and tsunami. While there were 40 to 50 injuries, there are no deaths directly attributed to radiation. These events were tragedies and should be regarded as such, but we cannot allow the past to jeopardize a future of abundant clean energy.
While it may be easy to believe the tall-tales we’re told about the dangers of nuclear power, these hard numbers speak for themselves. By the numbers, nuclear energy is responsible for the fewest deaths across the energy industry, including wind and solar. In fact, more people die each year from installing rooftop solar than they ever have from nuclear.
It is irresponsible to ignore such an efficient source of energy when climate change continues to ravage our environment and displace communities around the world. When you consider the cost of not addressing climate change, it is fair to argue that using nuclear energy actually saves lives rather than costing them.
Due to misconceptions about the dangers of nuclear power, we’ve prevented what could drastically reduce our carbon emissions. For decades, nuclear development has been stymied by red tape and overregulation, and while politicians have argued a false dichotomy — renewables versus fossil fuels — nuclear energy companies have steadily provided the world’s number one source of clean energy.
Climate change is happening now, and if we’re serious about a net-zero future, we cannot continue overregulating our best chance at significantly reducing emissions because of unfounded fears. No longer can we allow the government to get in the way of meaningful climate progress. We must prioritize safety, of course, but we cannot continue down a track of throwing obstacles in the way of promising innovation.
The United States is already the largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, accounting for 30 percent of global nuclear power generation. Championing nuclear energy should be a given for environmental activists and politicians alike. It provides an opportunity for the United States to lead the world in both innovative technology and climate change action. Whether Donald Trump wins reelection or the American people choose Joe Biden this week, nuclear power must be a part of America’s energy future.
Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.