Valeriani: New Energy Demand Requires Clear Solution


Maine’s energy profile is composed primarily petroleum, natural gas, biomass and renewable energies like wind and solar. Natural gas prices fluctuate wildly, and irrational fears of pipelines keep them high. The biomass industry is on shaky ground. New, large scale hydro is unrealistic. Windmills, which we want to expand, only work when there is wind, and this may not be when there is demand (all the while demand is increasing).

Nuclear energy can provide the consistency Maine needs. However, irrational fears of nuclear energy hinder and endanger our society, while blind acceptance of “renewable” energy is not without costs of its own. Let’s not forget that new wind energy projects often inspire quixotic environmentalists to handcuff themselves to windmills.

The left understands the low statistical risk a terrorist poses to an individual American, but this vulture-esque acceptance of temporarily convenient data should not be mistaken for sudden literacy in probability. Fear of nuclear energy is as rational as a fear of bioengineered crops (which nearly eliminated famine) or trepidation over the disappearance of bees (honeybees are not native to the US, native pollinators are fine).

Banning nuclear energy is as rational as banning “black” rifles (2 percent of gun deaths), rather than handguns (98 percent of gun deaths). Unlike the number of Americans killed by terrorists in the last 70 years, the number of Americans killed by nuclear accidents is exactly zero.

Wind and solar energy production comes at a greater human cost than nuclear energy. Canada’s Atomic Energy Control Board published a report calculating risk factors associated with several energy industries. They included the entire lifecycle of the technology, from mining materials required for construction to decommissioning plants, based on man hours lost due to injuries and deaths, per BTU produced.

While nuclear disasters are more sensational and glamorous to cover, the infrequency of these events means that nuclear energy is 222 times safer than wind and solar energies per BTU produced, even when dealing with antiquated technology.

This is not insignificant. Our perceptual biases distort these risk factors. Major incidents are easier to perceive than many smaller, cumulative incidents, but when the negative effects on people’s lives are tallied up, the results stay the same.

Three major incidents gave credibility to the anti-nuclear movement; Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The rhetoric surrounding these incidents does not tell the full story, and indeed, is often entirely false (not to marginalize these incidents, but putting these risk factors into perspective is essential).

Because of the incident at Three-mile Island in 1979, not a single plant has been ordered in the US since it occurred, and only one has been built. Despite the propaganda, a medical study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center showed no increase in the rates of cancer or mortality in residents surrounding Three Mile Island.

As for the Chernobyl incident, “(a)s of mid-2005… fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster” according to the World Health Organization. Their report goes on to emphasize that there were “4000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children, but that except for nine deaths, all of them have recovered”, and these cases would likely have been prevented if the Soviet Union had simply administered regimens of potassium iodine tablets to the affected population immediately after the event.

Fukushima was hit by a magnitude nine earthquake, then a 30-foot Tsunami, caused by the single largest recorded fault slip. The area around the reactor was evacuated and some studies believe that the evacuation went too far, claiming the greatest disaster was the psychological trauma of the event. One case of leukemia emerged in one of the more than 45,000 workers involved in the cleanup process.

The decommissioning process has led to two deaths; one was hit on the head with equipment, the other fell into a water tank. In contrast, the earthquake and tsunami killed almost 19,000 people. Thus far, there is no expectation for cancer rates to increase by any discernible amount, and the number of deaths related to radiation exposure is zero.

The reality is that nuclear energy has a safe track record, one comparable to or better than any other modern, realized source of energy. Any risk posed is negligible in comparison with everyday risks, yet the benefits are far beyond ordinary.

Despite this safety record, the environmental left has a melt-down if anyone mentions nuclear energy. They are not anti-nuclear, but anti-energy – and often anti-civilization.


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