As the price of oil surges upward, nuclear power is being given serious thought once more. Naturally, this is met with optimism by some and worry by others.
The main concerns about nuclear power are obvious. First, there is the risk of an accident. In any debate about nuclear power, one merely has to bring up Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in order to score some easy points. While nuclear accidents are rare, they have the potential to be truly catastrophic. Second, there is the matter of the nuclear waste. While recycling can occur in nuclear power (for example, some US reactors are using material from Russian warheads as fuel), nuclear waste is radioactive and this makes it just about the worst possible waste. Not only is radiation from such waste rather harmful, it tends to remain dangerous for centuries. Hence, storing it in a safe manner is of great concern. Third, there is the concern that nuclear material can be used to create weapons-either nuclear bombs or contamination weapons.
All of these concerns are quite legitimate and need to be dealt with effectively. In some cases, they already have. While Russian nuclear power has been a scary thing, Western plants have an excellent safety record. While the nuclear waste is a serious concern, expensive facilities are being constructed and plans are being discussed. Finally, some claim that plants can be secured to reduce the likelihood that they can become the sources of weapons (for the wrong people, of course).
Nuclear power does have some factors in its favor. First, nuclear power is cheaper than many alternative power sources such as wind , gas, and solar. Of course, there is some debate about this. Second, aside from the nuclear waste, nuclear plants are very clean. Of course, that nuclear waste is still a matter of significant concern. Third, unlike solar and wind power, nuclear power is always available. Fourth, nuclear power is domestic power-it can be generated right here in the United States, thus lessening our dependency on foreign sources of energy.
While people tend to have an emotional reaction to nuclear power, we should consider it as a possible option. After all, it does have a great deal in its favor. But, it also has some serious potential problems-as shown by Chernobyl. The effective loss of an entire city tends to create a lasting impression that is hard to erase with facts and figures about the viability and safety of nuclear energy.
But, looked at logically, provided that the waste and safety problems can be dealt with, going nuclear can be an acceptable option. It can even be a green option (and hopefully not a glowing green one).