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May 2, 2022

Why Is the Left So Afraid of Nuclear Power?

A nuclear power plant safely produces awesome amounts of energy with zero carbon emissions. So what’s the problem?

A fanatic, as Winston Churchill once said, is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

And, sadly, there are plenty of ecofascist fanatics out there — those who can’t change their minds about nuclear power and won’t stop talking about how dangerous it is. This despite the fact that the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history — the partial meltdown of a reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island way back in 1979 — resulted in exactly zero deaths, zero injuries, and zero adverse health effects.

Yes, yes, we know: Chernobyl. But to compare modern U.S. nuclear reactor technology and safety processes to those of the Soviet Union in 1970, when the Chernobyl reactor was built, is folly and lunacy rolled into one.

More recently, the meltdown at the Fukushima reactor, due to flooding of the backup generators caused by a 49-foot-high wall of water from the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, caused one single radiation death. And yet nearly 120,000 people died of skin cancer in 2019, most of them due to exposure to a different kind of radiation — the radiation produced by the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Still, though, the Bernie Sanders types on the Left — those who wail about the perils of global warming climate change — can’t seem to come around to the extraordinary environmental benefits of nuclear power. Think about it: The energy density of nuclear fuel is about two million times higher than that of fossil fuel, biofuel, batteries, or any other chemical. Put another way: A single nuclear pellet of uranium, which at one centimeter in diameter is just a bit bigger than a pea, creates as much energy as one ton of coal, 149 gallons of oil, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. And uranium isn’t rare; it’s considered an abundant metal.

Nuclear energy is an utterly awesome fuel source, and it’s right there at our fingertips. And yet. On windless days, the ecofascists’ wind turbines stop spinning, and even the solar panels in the Mojave Desert and on your neighbor’s roof are worthless at night. Nuclear plants, on the other hand, make an abundance of electricity all day long.

Further, as our Michael Swartz noted nearly three years ago: “Solar panels are chock full of highly toxic cadmium and other heavy metals that can leach out over time and present a threat to water supplies, while the decommissioning of wind turbines that have reached the end of their 20-year lifespan presents the problem of what to do with their massive 15-ton fiberglass rotor blades.” So much for eco-friendliness.

Then there’s the phobia.

“Fear,” as Harry Stevens writes in The Washington Post, “is the future’s tollbooth, and it can collect its fee in surprising ways. After 9/11, more people than expected began to die in car accidents on U.S. freeways, multiple studies found. People scared of the vivid threat of a midair terrorist attack apparently opted for the statistically more dangerous behavior of long-distance driving.”

Stevens continues: “Likewise, lots of people are scared of nuclear waste, which can be stored safely or reprocessed into useful things such as medical isotopes. The byproducts of coal-fired plants pose a more imminent threat. Following Germany’s nuclear phaseout, an estimated 1,100 additional people died each year from inhaling the poisonous gases and particle pollution from the coal plants Germany used to temporarily replace its nuclear ones.”

Josh Wolfe, who in 2008 cofounded Kurion and developed a novel method for sealing nuclear waste in glass, notes that although nuclear plants and atomic bombs “harness the same property of nature — the nuclear chain reaction — they’re separate technologies.” As Stevens writes, “Wolfe likes to invite people to imagine an alternate reality, one in which nuclear fission was discovered in, say, 2018, rather than in 1938, and it was first used to power cities, rather than to destroy them.”

Wolfe thus figured it was time for a rebrand of “nuclear” energy, so last July he proposed a new name on Twitter: elemental power. His rationale is that this new name “would not only shed the stigma of ‘nuclear’ and its association with bombs and radioactive fallout, but it would also emphasize the fact that the technology takes advantage of a natural process, just like solar and wind.”

Could it be that simple? Could it be that the deniers on the Left might come around to the promise of nuclear power if it were instead called “elemental power”?

Maybe Wolfe is onto something. After all, “No Elemental!” just doesn’t have the same bumper-sticker ring to it.

We’d better get moving, though. As Hudson Institute senior fellow Thomas Duesterberg writes: “In the U.S., nuclear power still provides nearly 20 percent of electricity needs… Of the 60 remaining nuclear facilities in the United States, 18 are scheduled for decommissioning in coming years.”

Perhaps a Republican-led Congress can put this on their to-do list.

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