Feeling a little uneasy about the prevalence of nuclear energy powering our future here in Florida following the tsunami that wiped out Japanese coastal cities last March leading to a meltdown disaster of Fukushima, or the Three Mile Island fiasco from the late 1970’s?
Or how about the downright frightening catastrophe of Chernobyl, the years-ago Ukrainian nuclear plant explosion and meltdown that killed almost 60 people, and today linked to an outbreak of cancer in more than 4,000 former residents? Could that happen in the United States? How about in Florida? In Palm Beach County, you might be wondering?
The answer is, of course, it could. But American advancements in chemical and plant engineering proficiency, combined with a precautious and blanket approach to safety makes nuclear energy one of the safest, most efficient and environmentally-friendly processes for producing sustainable energy that can provide mass power.
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a European think-tank promoting peace and security in an age of nuclear weaponry, found that the risk of any one reactor in a plant melting down is 0,1%, the equivalent of “Rolling a six on a die with 1,000 sides.” Of course, no country has just “one” nuclear reactor; Europe alone has more than 150 plants, so the organization takes that into effect when making their calculations.
But mathematical equations for assuming worldwide risk for global nuclear devastation aside, some of Florida’s foremost leaders in industrial energy weighed in on the debate in this month’s issue of Florida Trend.
First up: Barry Moline, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, a Tallahassee trade association. He makes the case that although we have to acknowledge the risks in building and operating nuclear power plants, nuclear energy has to be part of the next generation’s mix if Florida is to get serious about sustainable consumption. “I believe nuclear energy can be developed safely”, he told the journal.
One way to look at the debate is to recognize the fallacies and disadvantages of other alternatives. Our country is in the midst of an early boom in natural gas, and proponents are excited about the numbers: the U.S. controls more than 284 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. By some estimates, that could power America for more than 200 years.
But the problems with natural has are inherent and difficult to mitigate. For one, the financial markets for gas are controlled by producers, intermediaries, and speculators, creating volatility in the pricing. The means by which the gas is exhumed is controversial, too; scientist and researchers are beginning to link hydraulic fracturing, the primary process by which natural gas is unearthed, to new health hazards, like the release of volatile organic compounds into the air.
The other alternatives have their issues as well. Wind and solar power are both still astronomically expensive to generate, maintain, and distribute; hydroelectricity is geographical dense and therefore limited in terms of mass capacity and appeal.
Nuclear energy, however, has become safer and cheaper over the years to operate and maintain by producers, who are then able to pass the cost savings directly to the end consumer. The nuclear process emits little or no carbon or greenhouse gases into the environment, although the issue of how to deal with radioactive waste remains.
The Florida Trend article features Florida energy industry CEOs who generally agree that nuclear energy should be part of our future, including the president of the parent of Florida Power and Light. We think it has to be if we’re to get serious about powering American with clean, renewable energy on a large scale.