The Nuclear Option That Could Save Us; Nuclear energy

Andrei Stoica - Managing Editor

Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Tennessee

Photo from Tennessee Valley Authority

The Nuclear Option That Could Save Us; Nuclear Energy

10/23/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

By Andrei Stoica

In the pursuit of progress, technology and industry have moved at an increasing pace in the last 100 years. One problem that has become harder to ignore in recent years is the impact of that drive on our environment. While we chase alternative methods of preserving our planet, such as electric cars we sometimes forget that the electricity has a carbon cost alongside the moral one regarding the human rights of those who mine materials in electric vehicle batteries. From child labor to the damage that the dust from lithium mining can cause the lungs there are plenty of concerns to consider. Instead of focusing on the batteries and electricity, there is another way to look at this.

One way to cut down that carbon footprint mentioned before is something that has been used more for fear and destruction than to produce energy: nuclear power. To some people the mention of anything nuclear either brings to mind images of mushroom clouds or stories of Chernobyl. In reality nuclear energy is safe and can have a much more reduced impact on the planet, as long as it is well managed.

On the other hand “nukes” have always been a topic of contention. The good news is that a lot of countries are signing treaties to reduce or eliminate their nuclear arsenals. One of those treaties is the New START accord between Russia and America, aimed at stopping any new weapons from being built, that has just entered talks for an extension. The other treaties are more directed at abolishment of nuclear arsenals in their entirety. The push for total abolishment has been gaining ground with more and more countries joining, despite the U.S’s reluctance.

The bad news is that countries like the United States still have a nuclear arsenal that requires a lot of people to maintain and manage. As more and more countries are disarming the US will be in a position to make a choice. By making the move to walk away from world ending bombs there is an unfortunate impact on those working in this field. Some might be your neighbors, like those who work in Kansas City, Missouri at the National Security Campus. The Honeywell managed facility employs some 5,000 people. A serious possibility they could be facing, if the United States joins those agreements, is a drastic career change in the near future. One solution to that could be to pivot our relationship with nuclear power from weapons to energy.

In order to make this happen, we need to start work on storage and safe handling of radioactive waste. Sadly, while we have been quick to build both nukes and power plants, we never actually seem to take an in-depth look at waste disposal.

A recent push for safer reactors actually resulted in one company getting future government funding for a smaller version of the water-cooled systems in most nuclear plants. This step while in the right direction only highlights the approach that sees waste management playing second fiddle to raw output.

From the poorly and hastily built sarcophagus around the Chernobyl plant to the fallout over Bikini Atoll, radioactivity and its consequences always seemed to be secondary concerns. If that became our primary focus, we could offer those facing career shifts a place in a new industry, one not too far from their previous field.

This possible way of reducing the impending environmental harm from greenhouse gasses can also help those exploited for their work on a global scale. This new focus can help not just the planet but also those living on it. It could help curb the problem of labor laws being broken as a side effect, as the likelihood of child labor being used in nuclear facilities is much, much smaller than it is in cobalt mines on the other side of the world where they “work” for about $1-2 per day.

The impact of our current dependency on fossil fuels and aversion to nuclear has not only environmental consequences but economic and social as well. The longer we ignore the need to change our perspective, the more the planet and the people living on it will suffer.