The U.S. saw a boom in nuclear energy plants in the 195’s, when nuclear energy was widely regarded as the wave of the future. In 1979, however, the core reactor meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, changed the nation’s optimistic views on nuclear power.
Lately, however, there’s been a resurgence of interest in nuclear energy as a renewable energy source, and the Obama administration has even gone so far as to approve two new nuclear reactors for the state of Georgia. If built, these plants will be the first nuclear plants started in the US since the 1970’s, according to the New York Times.
Is nuclear energy a viable alternative to to fossil fuels, foreign oil and global warming? Or is it a form of energy that creates as many environmental problems as it aims to solve? In order to get a handle on both sides of the debate, we spoke with Steven Kerekes, spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Jim Riccio, nuclear energy campaign manager for Greenpeace. You can already guess who has opinions on what side of the issue.
The Argument for Nuclear Energy
Kerekes highlights nuclear energy as a technology with the power to reliably and affordably provide large amounts of electricity on virtually a non-stop basis. He points out that nuclear power has been proven over the course of 3,500 combined reactor-years of operation in the United States and 14,000 combined reactor-years of operation worldwide.
According to Kerekes, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates U.S. demand for electricity will increase 23 percent by 2030 – the equivalent of 200-plus full-scale power plants – and all independent analyses of climate change (including studies conducted by the National Academies of Science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DOE) conclude that meeting demand while at the same time reducing carbon emissions requires a clean energy technology portfolio in which nuclear energy plays a prominent role.
As far as safety goes, Kerekes believes we’ve come a long way since Three Mile Island. “First, this isn’t 1979 or 1989 or even 1999,” he told us. “Reforms put in place after the Three Mile Island accident have led to vast improvement in the training of nuclear plant personnel, in the sharing of operational information throughout our industry, and in the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of our facilities.” He highlights changes in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the success of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which were created to create greater oversight on nuclear plants following Three Mile Island.