Why I Believe that Nuclear Energy is the Safest Form of Energy
By Charles Barton
One of the advantages of having a father who was a nuclear safety researcher is that I had a chance to look at nuclear safety from the inside rather than from the outside. Most of my father’s work during his twenty-nine year Oak Ridge career was either directly or indirectly related to nuclear safety. My father made significant contributions to the safety of reactors in several respects. He also made contributions to the study of the release of radioisotopes in the environment through a number of sources including natural gas. He concluded that radioisotopes from natural gas could be far more dangerous to customers than radioisotopes from nuclear power plants because some radioisotopes are delivered to homes through natural gas pipes. Needless to say, people who are frightened about radiation from nuclear power plants steadily ignore the far more dangerous problem of radio active materials traveling into the home through natural gas pipes. My father estimated that there were as many as ten thousand causalities in the US every year due to breathing radioisotopes transmitted to the home by natural gas. Critics of nuclear power do not worry about the radiation safety problems of natural gas even though they may be far more serious.
The first commercial reactors were far less safe than the current generation of reactor design. Reactor scientists expressed their concern during the 1960s and early 1970, although the nuclear establishment in Washington D.C. steadfastly refused to acknowledge the problem. Eventually, this refusal led to the Three-Mile Island accident, but subsequently great strides were made in improving nuclear safety. The accident at Fukushima was the result of human error as well as huge and unexpected natural events. The human error was not anticipating a natural event; a forty-five foot tsunami that overwhelmed the backup generation system of the Fukushima reactors. This deprived the reactors of coolant water and eventually led to partial core meltdowns. Despite these catastrophic accidents, no one was killed by core meltdowns or the radiation released as a consequence. The truth is, that no one has ever been killed as a result of a commercial reactor core meltdown.
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