Opponents of nuclear power watched their biggest fears materialize in Japan, where three explosions occurred within nuclear reactors, unleashing radiation into the atmosphere. We can learn valuable lessons from this unspeakable tragedy, but we should neither halt U.S. nuclear energy development, nor end using this power as an alternative energy source.
According to the Wall Street Journal, President Obama did not freeze U.S. nuclear power development after the earthquake, sticking to his agenda to become more reliant on alternatives to coal-fired power plants.
Public discourse on nuclear energy often deals with the dangers and catastrophes of such energy, but rarely are all the dangers of coal discussed. Aside from the environmental consequences of using coal, it also poses a great risk to human health.
According to one study, Coal combustion can have severe consequences on respiratory systems, causing asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. The coal-burning process can also lead to cardiovascular problems and affect the nervous system.
According to Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, “More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions—or nearly 10 percent of global emissions.” Of which, CO2 is the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change.”
The environmental problems are just as disastrous. In Appalachia, surface mining is the status quo, and coal extraction often requires mountaintop removal, which uses dynamite to blow off the tops of mountains to gain access to multiple seams of coal.
This process causes a devastating amount of ecological destruction.
Environmental consequences include groundwater pollution, air pollution, flooding and deforestation. A huge amount of waste is also generated, with which coal-mining companies fill mountain valleys. This pollutes groundwater and disturbs or completely cuts off streams. The damage is so extensive that remediation efforts often fail.
Our dependence on coal has gradual, but inevitably, drastic impacts on human health. Nuclear energy can have quick, catastrophic consequences, but these are few and far between. The gradual approach coal takes obscures the seriousness of the matter.
Nuclear energy is a cost-effective method that can supply power to meet our growing demand. In 2004, the average cost to produce nuclear energy was less than two cents per kilowatt-hour. There are currently 103 nuclear power plants in the United States.
When it comes down to it, coal causes more harm than nuclear power. With development underway and lessons learned from the Japanese meltdowns, we are learning ways to make these plants tremendously safer. However, the comfortable relationship between our government and big oil companies has been a large impediment to the wide spread use of nuclear power, a trend that will hopefully reverse, in spite of Japan’s recent tragedy.