Fear of the unknown is quite a large motivator in our lives. If the fear is derived from an unknown cause, then that cause will likely be abandoned, shut down, and just shunned by all who tout the negative effects even if there is much research to have been done.
It is like our childhood fixation on the horrors of the dark.
As a kid, one does not simply wake up in the night to stare into the blankness of the ceiling above, or just go for a walk as the bright globe of life and light heads into the twilight zone. The dark seemed to be a thing to be feared, and rightfully so! for our imaginations have already revealed to us the monsters, the dangers, and the utmost terror that not only lies within the dark, but *is* a fundamental part of the dark.
A child would not be able to comprehend the peacefulness that is only obtainable through the cover of the night, nor the silent pleasures that arise from quiet meditation. A child would only see the harsh darkness as something that should be fought at all costs, even sacrificing money and time to see it gone. A child, or at least most children, could not lead fully happy lives knowing that darkness, and the scary monsters and sprites that it brought, would be back to haunt them at night.
Ladies and gentlemen, today we are all children, cowering in fear of something just as misunderstood and just as feared for no true reason.
Nuclear power was something that was dreamed up in the early days of science fiction. One day, novelists claimed, the world would be free from the dust and smog of cities, and everyone would have access to free, clean energy! Over the course of some regrettable causes, namely through the end result of the Manhattan Project, we were able to reach a breakthrough in the mechanisms producing nuclear power. Humanity was able to split atoms and release their binding energy for the world to use.
In the early days of Nuclear power, people were much more acceptive of the idea, perhaps driven not out of respect for science, but a respect for their wallets. A cheaper fuel, perhaps not as cheap as Strauss’ “electrical energy too cheap to meter” kind, but still very much so. However, decades of cold war scares and atomic threats brought the issue of radioactivity firmly into the public’s viewpoint, assisted by pictures of glowing green waste buckets and super-mutants being born from a quick dip. More and more, people were imagining that radiation was a deadly item that would create mutants out of nothing.
And then, a series of unfortunate events occurred.
Three Mile Island (1979), in mid-central Pennsylvania, was the worst nuclear catastrophe that America has ever seen. As a reactor core spiraled out of control due to human error and several pieces of bad luck, the government made the difficult decision of dumping 40,000 tons of waste into the river.
Reinforcing that image was a recent movie, The China Syndrome, a slightly exaggerated movie on the dangers of Nuclear Plant safety. With that image of a nuclear core melting through the world’s core and blowing up China, the American public turned to Three Mile Island and were horrified with what they found.
The final nail in the coffin was the largest disaster this earth had seen, barring any actual weapons testing. Chernobyl was brought into the world’s psyche as the land science destroyed, and radiation being spread.
These three isolated events was oxygen (more important than actual fuel) to the fire that was the anti-nuclear program, basing their actions on concerns for public safety. They are the ones who eventually led to the end of the American civilian nuclear program, completing Watts Bar I, the final plant in the Tennessee Valley region. As America and Europe slowed their nuclear development to a halt, they breathed a sigh of relief.
The problem with their concerns is that they are not fully legitimate.
It is true that nuclear power has inherent problems of safety. However, why are we content with removing it altogether in the face of the danger, instead of figuring out methods to properly utilize the power?
The International Atomic Energy Agency and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are the ones tasked with the duty of protecting the public from the danger that nuclear power could bring upon you. The full safety measures that are in place today are far better than anything the world could have imagined before.
Take the threat of terrorists crashing planes into those plants. What would happen if a plane, oh I don’t know, perhaps a F4 Phantom Jet, crashes into one of these plants at, lets just say, 500 miles per hour?
Plane: 0, Wall:1
I’m not saying that plants are perfectly safe, I’m’ just saying that they might be a little safer than if a similar plan(e) was crashed into other power sources.
Next, take on the global fear of nuclear waste. Isn’t it enough to immediately kill a person? Wouldn’t the spent fuel from a plant be enough to poison a person beyond compare?
It might be true that if you were to attempt to touch the spent fuel lying in a spent fuel pond, you will die. From bullet wounds of guards shooting at you. Randall Monroe does a much more eloquent way of explaining: http://what-if.xkcd.com/29/
Well, what about living next to a nuclear plant? Wouldn’t that radiation kill eventually?
The thing is, scientists have already accounted for much of that, and have extremely elaborate systems in place to prevent immediate death, drawn out death, or any type of death at all. Again, Randall Monroe: http://xkcd.com/radiation/ shows a spectacular graph of the danger – and sources – of radiation.
So remember kids, you’re getting more radiation from a banana than from living next door to a cooling tower. Better watch what you eat, or maybe just ban bananas outright, right? (hehe words that sound the same are funny)
Well, certainly nuclear plants are producing more dangerous waste towards the public than any other type of fuel, right? Wrong again: This Scientific American isn’t perfect, but it is simple enough to get the gist: Old coal plants, or plants that don’t use clean coal, pose a larger risk for public danger due to radiation than nuclear plants do. [even more data for review]
Well, the plants are definitely producing massive amounts of fuel that we can’t get rid of, right? What are we supposed to do about that?
Not that much, because a 1000 Megawatt producing nuclear plant only produces a cube 20 meters each side per year of production. On the other hand, a typical coal plant would consume about 15,000 tons of coal per day: imagine how much smog that pumps out!
The point that I’m trying to make, albeit in an odd fashion, is that nuclear power is not something to be terrified of. Even though there are definite dangers to the system, so does everything else. Nuclear power isn’t scary, but instead, it is still unknown. And as children will fear the dark until they learn more, so will many modern Americans fear Nuclear Power until they see the light.