Opinion: New sources of nuclear power are needed now | Columnists

I was surprised to see Mike Garrity’s Jan. 28 Missoulian op-ed, “Time to Say Goodbye to Nuclear Power,” also in other Montana newspapers. Perhaps he was swayed by Republican majorities when the Legislature repeal of Montana’s initiative 44 years ago to ban nuclear power unless approved by the voters.

Garrity is correct that many major nuclear projects are expensive and often go over budget. However, this is true of almost all very large industrial projects, including large bridges, high-rise buildings, and conventional power plants.

The advantages of small modular nuclear power plants are that they are 1) Modular; the first installations will be expensive and probably out of budget. Later versions will be cheaper because multiple copies of parts can be made and shipped from central factories. Just as Henry Ford mass-produced cars a century ago, costs have fallen and reliability has improved. 2) Small modular reactors can be transported by truck or by rail, to be close to where the energy is used. This minimizes the significant power losses, costs and fire hazards of high power transmission lines.

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Safety is the concern often expressed by the public following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. However, no one died or became seriously ill from the radiation. Forty or 50 people suffered physical injuries or radiation burns; 573 people died due to forced evacuation and stress in response to the tsunami and nuclear disaster. Stress-related deaths were due to loss of housing, employment, separation from friends and family and stigma (source: World Health Organization).

Security in new designs is enhanced by passive mechanisms in response to unexpected events. For example, automatic responses use gravity in the event of an electrical power failure, so that the control rods fall automatically, stopping the nuclear reaction, or the cooling water in the event of an accident pours from above. The whole operation is automated, with few employees and fallible human judgment. Such automation is widely used in commercial aircraft.

Garrity also disparages the on-site storage of nuclear waste in concrete drums. Such storage worked well for many years at Hanford, near Richland, Washington. Kegs offer little benefit to a terrorist and are almost immune to attack. Any damage or deterioration is easily spotted and easily dealt with thanks to surface storage.

He ignores the advantages of nuclear power. Nuclear power is reliable and flexible regardless of the availability of wind or sun, even at night, low angle sunlight or cloud cover. Battery backup power, needed for wind and solar, is not needed for nuclear. It also neglects the fact that nuclear generates minimal greenhouse gases, even including building and construction. The number of deaths caused by nuclear energy is miniscule compared to coal, oil or natural gas – even gas causes 40 times more deaths for the same amount of electrical energy (source: US Energy Information Administration).

Nuclear does not replace wind, solar, geothermal or other carbon-free fuels, but it is essential to meet our rapidly increasing electricity needs. As physicist Nathan Myhrvold reported 10 years ago, switching from coal to natural gas would only reduce the warming effect in 100 years by about 20%, but switching to renewables or nuclear would reduce it. two-thirds to three-quarters.

I am surprised that the director of an organization that focuses on ecology and wildlife is downplaying one of the only energy sources that can meet our energy needs without adverse effects on ecology and the environment. Our future energy needs, and a lead time of at least seven years for new nuclear energy, demand that we achieve this. Now.

Don Hyndman is Emeritus Professor of Geosciences at the University of Montana.

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Rosemary C. Kearney