Climate Change, Energy, Nuclear Reactor

Mr. Burns Was Right

By: Paul Laudiero

“We know that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit, especially in light of lessons learned from the Fukushima meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster.” – Bernie Sanders 

“Oh, meltdown. It’s one of these annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.” – Mr. Burns, The Simpsons, S3 E5.

While the democratic presidential candidates have all made climate change a major talking point of their campaigns, several of them, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have refused to embrace nuclear energy as a solution.  If humans are to drastically reduce their carbon emissions in the next 11 years (per the U.N.’s climate change panel’s recommendations) utilizing nuclear energy should be heavily featured in both of their climate change plans.

One of the main issues opponents of nuclear energy maintain is the risk of a nuclear plant meltdown, as seen in the Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima incidents. While these meltdowns have had serious negative effects, they pale in comparison to the deaths and damage caused by fossil fuels.

In 2005, a U.N. report found that the total number of deaths from Chernobyl was fewer than 50. The report further found that an estimated 4,000 people could eventually die from the exposure to radiation from the meltdown. Since Fukushima in 2011, Japanese officials have reported just one death as a result of nuclear exposure, while a U.N. panel of scientists found that the radiation exposure would be “unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the public and the vast majority of workers.” The worst nuclear power plant meltdown on American soil, Three Mile Island, resulted in no deaths and according to a report by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Division, there have been no serious side effects to the surrounding area in Pennsylvania.

Contrast those numbers with the annual 5.2 million deaths attributed to air pollution due to fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is clearly a safer option. Dismissing nuclear as “too dangerous” is false and preys on the public’s tainted understanding of the meltdowns constantly touted by anti-nuclear supporters.

Not all the candidates are as opposed to going nuclear. Andrew Yang has endorsed building new plants in addition to working on renewables. “Nuclear energy gets a bad rap because we all think about Homer Simpson and the possibility of contamination,” Yang’s website says. “The reality is that nuclear power is one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly paths forward to a more sustainable future.”

“Excellent,” I’m sure Mr. Burns would reply.