Our hippie friends across the river have a nuclear power plant in their state, Vermont Yankee. It’s an older design, similar to the Japanese Fukushima I reactor. Vermont Yankee generates 73% of the energy used in the state of Vermont.
Naturally, the hippies want it shut down, and the state senate has voted to not renew Vermont Yankee’s operating license past 2012. Presumably, the magic unicorns roaming the Green Mountains will step up to the plate, touch their horns to the transformers, and feed five thousand gigawatt hours of magic energy into the grid annually to make up for Vermont Yankee’s capacity. Or something.
Yes, Vermont Yankee is of the same design as the Fukushima I plant that had a radiation leak. After a 9.0 quake nearby, and after being hammered by a tsunami and losing power for the cooling system as a result. And that radiation leak has killed 0 (in words: zero) people due to radiation exposure so far.
Look, there is no technology that is absolutely 100% safe–but nuclear energy is the safest, cleanest, and most efficient form of energy generation we have yet invented. There’s no such thing as a human birthright to be free from all conceivable dangers from cradle to grave. To be human means to constantly juggle risks and benefits, because we have to constantly work for our survival on this little blue pebble. Yes, a nuclear accident can cause thousands of deaths, but higher food and energy prices due to insufficient energy supply to keep billions of people warm and fed would kill many more than that. Nuclear energy is indispensable at this point…unless you want to see the Chinese and Indians build a few hundred coal plants in the next few decades, you don’t mind millions of brownish-hued people in Over Thereistan starving in the dark, you feel great about rolling blackouts and $500/month energy bills, and you like driving to work under a permanent dome of coal-burn haze.
Chernobyl resulted in fewer than a hundred deaths, and a few thousand people with radiation-related health problems, mostly from the area 20 miles around the plant. That’s the worst nuclear accident in history, and that death toll is unacceptable, and proof that nukes aren’t safe, despite the fact that hundreds of reactors worldwide have been running for decades without any accidents. Automobile accidents kill 30,000 people in the U.S. every year…and that’s the price of freedom. More miners die every year digging for the coal that runs coal-powered plants than people have died of nuclear accidents in the history of the technology.
Hippies: Sometimes, They Don’t Make Sense. But then again, the nuclear debate has never really been about what’s safe for people. It has also never been about what’s good for the planet–otherwise the anti-nuke crowd wouldn’t push to get rid of a technology whose only current viable large-scale alternative, coal power, requires the burning of 8,600 tons of CO2-generating coal per plant and day.