Whether you believe that dangerous anthropogenic global warming is real or not, one solution consistently has been left unexplored: nuclear power. However, both the right and the left are now reconsidering.
Most notably, the bellwether leftist publication The New York Times recently published an article titled “Nuclear Power Can Save the World.” Similarly, left-leaning NPR had a positive program about fourth-generation nuclear power. Liberal author Michael Shellenberger, a Time Magazine Heroes of the Environment winner, has in recent years tirelessly promoted nuclear power as the best, safest, and most environmentally friendly alternative.
This may be a sign that the center-left is willing to consider an option that will not destroy the American economy. Those who believe global warming is not a problem have nothing to fear from nuclear power, since it is a good idea regardless of whether humans are changing the climate or not.
Myths About Nuclear Power
Many myths about nuclear power have become deeply rooted, and the reason is likely that from the beginning this technology has been conflated and associated with nuclear weapons and the Cold War. The Hiroshima bombing shocked and traumatized an entire generation. Seeing that display of pure destruction created a deep-seated fear that environmentalists used to ban the development and proliferation of nuclear power. The Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 further reinforced those fears.
The Cold War ended nearly three decades ago, and an entirely new generation who never experienced the terror of the Soviet Union and its nuclear arsenal has grown up. So it seems more people are open to listen to reason.
After Hiroshima, scientists were able to establish a linear relationship between high-dosage radiation and cancer. Linear means that if you double the exposure, the risk of disease or death also doubles. This was confirmed by subsequent animal experiments. It is proven beyond a shred of doubt that radiation causes cancer.
But what about tiny dosages? The scientific theory upon which nuclear policies around the world are based states that there is no cut-off. Radiation is claimed to be dangerous even in minuscule amounts. This is called the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) theory, and whenever you hear about a massive death toll from Chernobyl, it is entirely based on a calculated number of expected deaths from low-level radiation.
The scientifically proven deaths are much lower, however. A U.N. report from 2005 about Chernobyl states:
“As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.”
The most significant nuclear disaster in the history of humanity officially has killed only 50 people. By comparison, 22 people are killed every year in the U.S. from cow attacks. The U.N. report does state that an estimated total of 4,000 people will eventually die from the Chernobyl disaster, but that is based on the LNT theory.
Today there is ample evidence that the theory is wrong, and why that’s so is just common sense. If someone drops a small rock from the fifth floor and it hits you in the head, there is a chance that this can kill you. If you increase the size of the rock, your risk of being killed by it obviously increases. However, is there a risk that a pebble will kill you? What about a sand grain? You realize that at some size threshold, the object can no longer kill or even hurt you.
That’s true also of radiation due to a well-documented biological phenomenon known as hormesis. Your body gets stronger and healthier if it receives a small dosage of poison, bacteria, radiation, or another dangerous foreign agent that otherwise in large doses would be lethal. Indeed, hormesis is the basis of vaccination.
Thus, the calculated death toll of 4,000 from Chernobyl is likely dramatically exaggerated. Low-dose radiation is not dangerous.
Consider that Chernobyl was built by communists – before computers. The best car that the centrally planned economy was able to produce, the Trabant, was worse than the worst car the free market ever provided. Most of the technology the Soviets created was deficient both in efficiency and safety. The Chernobyl disaster was first and foremost a failure of communism, not of nuclear power.
The Fukushima disaster in Japan is not a good example, either. The plant was built nearly 50 years ago, and the design was never disaster proof. Even so, it took a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami to take out the power plant, and despite reports in the media of how dangerous this was, most of the radiation was contained within the power plant. So far only a single radiation death has been attributed officially to the Fukushima incident.
Even with this old and outdated pre-computer technology, nuclear is the safest power that has ever been invented. With modern designs, even the possibility of a disaster is eliminated.
The research into nuclear power has been severely hampered by fear. In its most draconian and regulated form, it is an overly expensive technology, but the restrictions are based on irrational fear. Every day, more people die from traffic accidents than have been killed by half a century of nuclear power. Yet, we allow roads to be built and consider vehicle transportation to be of such great benefit that we are willing to accept that risk as part of life.
If we deregulate nuclear power and allow private enterprise to research and invest in it, it could be a cheap, safe, clean, and competitive alternative to fossil fuels – without subsidies and ruining our economy with pie-in-the-sky renewables. We have held back innovation for decades for no good reason. The time for nuclear power has come.
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