It’s been hot this summer; Air conditioners running around the clock. We are accustomed to this convenience in America and you can be sure families in India and China, where it’s also really hot, are using their growing affluence to buy similar appliances.
All this means more electricity must be generated around the world. Analysts project world energy demands could triple in the next 30 years. Across the south eastern United States, energy demand is expected to grow 27 percent by 2030, according to Georgia Power.
New sources of large scale, reliable, affordable power that don’t destroy the planet are needed. Thus far the wind and solar industries have made small strides but nothing to meet the projected global demand.
Where the world needs to look is nuclear. Overshadowed by public fears that are largely misinformed, and bogged down in engineering, cost and permitting strangleholds, nuclear energy still represents the best bet for powering our world with the fewest harmful side-effects of pollution and climate change gases.
Georgia Power, who operates the Hatch and Vogtle nuclear plants here, says on their website, “Nuclear energy is the most cost-effective, reliable and environmentally responsible fuel source available today.”
They would like to add two new units to their Vogtle operation on the Savannah River. Construction is underway (sort of). They are running months behind schedule on a project once hoped to be completed by 2020.The cost overruns are similarly a mess and Georgia Power customers have already footed the bills by paying rates now to fund future construction. The new reactors were once slated as a $14 billion project but are now projected to run closer to $22 billion, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The problems of opening a nuclear plant aren’t unique to Georgia. These would actually be the first two new nuclear units to open anywhere in the United States in the past three decades.
While this construction project is a lesson in frustration, the world needs nuclear to work. No other power source is likely to meet our needs without wrecking the climate. Once operational, nuclear is solid and sustainable. It doesn’t require digging additional holes for raw materials, nor pipelines stretched across the countryside, nor does it give off greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
There is a public perception that nuclear plants equal radiation problems. But the nuclear plant disasters aren’t nearly as disastrous as commonly thought.
Consider first that nuclear power has a track record in 32 countries (including third world locations), with decades of service and there have been three major accidents of note, two of which didn’t cause any direct fatalities.
The accidents occurred at Three Mile Island in the U.S. in 1979, where it is widely thought that no serious health effects occurred though there is a minority view that the radiation released was the cause of later problems.
The next accident was in Chernobyl in 1986 where an explosion killed 31 and later deaths are also attributable. But bear in mind this was the Soviet Union where denial of any accident and little effort to clean up contributed to the dire effects.
Finally, there was the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011 where older reactors were damaged by a tsunami. Bad location was a prime factor, though the accident caused no fatalities at the time; it is projected that up to 650 people could die of related radiation issues in future years.
Consider also the long period of no construction in the U.S. has allowed the technology to get much better. Some of the later designs greatly ameliorate problems with the waste issues of older plants.
The U.S. Regulatory Commission requires plants meet a “1 in 10,000 core damage frequency” but the plants operating today mostly meet a 1 in 1,000,000 standard and the new plants are engineered at 1 in 10 million.
One in 10 million odds seem pretty acceptable considering the other option of more climate change, pollution, plus the uncertainty of outpacing world energy production are all troubling for the whole planet.
We need a clear plan in this country to move nuclear power forward and it starts in Georgia with our government working to clear hurdles for the two plants underway.