How have your views on nuclear power changed over the years?

For the first time since 1978, regulators have approved the construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States. Today’s Question: How have your views on nuclear power changed over the years?

  • Sal E

    No, my views have not changed. The generation of nuclear power produces waste products that are extremely toxic for millennia. Until we have a method for disposing of nuclear waste we must not produce any more of the stuff. What poisonous mess are we leaving for our grandchildren? What are people thinking?

  • Alison

    I had been strongly opposed before, but I now see it as one part of the solution to ending our dependence on fossil fuels and reversing global climate change. However, we do need to solve the technical challenges of waste storage and safety from natural and human-made disasters.

    One other aspect I remain very concerned about is the source of US uranium. In college I learned from sociology professor Al Gedicks about how much of the uranium used in the US is has been mined on or near Native American land with great environmental and health damage to Native communities. See “The New Resource Wars” by Gedicks for more info. This is another issue that would have to be addressed before I give full support to any expansion of nuclear power.

  • Rollie

    Nuclear reactors provide base load power, that is, steady, reliable power with low marginal cost (and high capital cost). Wind and solar provide intermittent power that depends on the weather. If you’re going to base more than 10% of your power in wind and solar you need to build standby power to replace it when the weather doesn’t cooperate. So please, when campaigners for renewable power speak of plans to install wind farms and solar farms, please remember to build matching natural gas plants which will sit idle 70% of the time and produce greenhouse gases the other 30%

  • Melissa Pond

    Count another “strongly opposed” here, as nuclear power is an irresponsible long-term solution, producing toxic radioactive waste. The toxic radioactive waste is a danger to us now and to future generations. As to those who say it can be stored in Yucca Mountain, we cannot commit this atrocity against the Shoshone and Paiute people; too many Native nations already face what is termed environmental racism. We need to start finding ways to reduce our energy consumption or invest in ways of producing energy that do not destroy what already keeps us alive.

  • Stephanie

    We’ll never claim it enough but the best energy is the one you never use!

  • david

    It seems like a good idea at first. No greenhouse emissions. I realize now that it’s just to expensive to build, and that cost will be passed along to the consumer. The potential expense is astronomical should there be an accident, and it won’t fall on the power companies and their insurance but would cost tax payers. Until all efficiencies, conservation, and renewable strategies are maxed out, nuclear should be considered to only to replace the last of the coal plants.

  • Steve the Cynic

    How have my views changed? They haven’t, except that I keep growing ever more frustrated by the irrational rhetoric of the no-nukes zealots and their nearly superstitious fear of radiation. If not for them, we could have put a stop to coal-fired plants a generation ago. While we’ve been dithering, coal has been doing way more damage to the environment than nuclear, spewing murcury and other toxins into the atmosphere, worsening climate change, and killing miners in the name of cheap energy. Yes, radiation is bad, but the non-radioactive stuff produced by burning coal is worse than the radiaion produced by nuclear reactors. And even radioactivity is worse with coal. The radioactive carbon isotopes put into the air by coal plants operating as designed amounts to more radiation than what has been released in all of the nuclear accidents in history. Nuclear energy is far from ideal, but it’s not nearly as bad as no-nukes fear-mongers would have us believe.

  • John

    I believe that nuclear power is out of date. There are many newer technologies without the risk and cost of nuclear. For example the E-Cat reactor uses Nickel (one of the most abundant elements on earth) and Hydrogen to create a reaction which gives off heat and has a byproduct of copper. We can always use more copper.

    Also, solar cells are becoming so much more efficient that within a couple years the present panels will become obsolete, like nuclear power is. I have solar now and don’t have an electricity bill, anyone can do it. Just have to put your mind to it.

  • Gary F

    All power sources have their pros and cons.

    I believe we must a diverse mix of electric production.

    Solar and wind aren’t cost effective, yet. The vast amount of subsidies that are required to get them built for a source of power that is dependent on it being sunny or windy. You CAN’T count on solar/wind for your base load. But, it can be part of the mix.

    We have an abundance of coal. With today’s high tech scrubbers, emissions are much less than they used to be. But, it has to be part of the mix.

    Nukes have it’s drawbacks too. But it must also be part of the mix.

    For all the folks that think we are going to all drive electric cars in the near future you are going to have to realize that wind/solar will not produce enough electricity base load to power these cars on a large basis.

    We need more base load capacity. Sun or rain, calm or windy.

    Nukes must be part of the equation.

  • Snyder

    For those who believe nuclear has to be a part of the mix, are you willing to live near a nuclear power plant? How about a nuclear waste storage site? If not, kindly reconsider your position.

  • Gary F

    “For those who believe nuclear has to be a part of the mix, are you willing to live near a nuclear power plant? How about a nuclear waste storage site? If not, kindly reconsider your position.”

    Yes. I’d love to live near Red Wing. I love that area of Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.

  • Neil C.

    I was raised “pro-nuke.” My father was a “rose colored glasses” wearing nuclear engineer. My passion for the technology has waxed and waned over the years.

    The US generally, and Minnesota particulary benefits from these reliable giants pumping out reliable, low cost, low emission power year after year after year.

    US nuke plants have proven to be extremely safe over the years….and remember, most of the plants running today are essentially first generation plants.

    The next generation plants will be even safer and even more reliable.

    The spent fuel storage problem is 100% political. Yes it needs to be tucked away for a long time. There are lots of excellent holes in the ground to do just that.

    If one worries at all about global warming, or the costs of maintaining the Middle East as a secure supply of energy, nuclear has to be part of the energy equation.

    Congratulations to whoever it was that got to “yes” on the first new nuke in the US since 1978.

  • Craig

    Yes they have. As a kid, the alleged danger was attractive, I wanted to grow up to be a mad scientist at the controls of a powerful reactor which, but for my genius, might spin out of control.

    Now I see it as a boring, profitable utility (when operated on solid ground by non-Russians).

    My view of traditional power has changed too. It used to be abstract. Now I see it as the highly refined, but not different practice of burning whatever burns; which we have been doing since we were ignorant savages.

    I think Today’s Question is aimed correctly at demotic perception. A tension in the public imagination between status and risk will drive the decision more so than expert cost/benefit analysis.

  • Mary

    My views haven’t changed one bit. They still haven’t figured out how to store the waste in a truly safe manner. Until they do I don’t think it needs to be part of the mix. I thought that way back in the 70′s and I still feel that way now. Unfortunately we’ve seen the devastating consequences of a nuclear plant getting out of control. That is a constant possibility. Are we willing to trade cheaper energy for the destruction caused by a melt down? If you think it’s not that big of a risk go ask the people who used to live near Chernobyl or the people of Japan.

  • JasonB

    I still feel that advocates for nuclear power have not adequately clarified how we can make it acceptably safe and how securely can we store spent fuel. I hear about how the newer designs are much better, but then the Fukushima crisis happens. To paraphrase a notion going around: nuclear power is completely safe – until it isn’t.

  • Bill

    I am totally against nuclear and it is only been enforced since these disasters took place. What isn’t really mentioned much is then amount of subsidies that nuclear power gets.

    Subsidies were originally intended to provide temporary support for the fledgling nuclear power industry, but the promised day when the industry could prosper without them and power from nuclear reactors would be “too cheap to meter” has yet to arrive. It is unlikely to arrive any time soon, as cost estimates for new reactors continue to escalate and the nuclear power lobby demands even more support from taxpayers. Piling new subsidies on top of existing ones will provide the industry with little incentive to rework its business model to internalize its considerable costs and risks.

    We can’t afford nuclear. Solar and subsidies to individuals and companies for solar should be considered first before we give any more money to nuclear.

  • Alison

    \\I still feel that advocates for nuclear power have not adequately clarified how we can make it acceptably safe

    The biggest alternative, fossil fuels, aren’t acceptably safe either. There are many risks with using fossil fuels, including global climate change. The difference is that with a nuclear incident the damage is immediate, dramatic, and easy to trace back to the source. That creates real and immediate fear in the minds of the public. That isn’t the case with global climate change caused by fossil fuel use. Climate change happens over a period of years and with many, many individual events, none of which can be definitively attributed to a specific fossil fuel power plant. How do you boil a live frog? Don’t put it in boiling water. It will jump out. Put it in warm water and heat it so gradually it can’t tell the difference.

    I’m not totally comfortable with nuclear power, but this issue is far to complicated to only consider one side. Of course we also need to develop energy sources like wind and solar, but can we ramp up capacity fast enough?

  • James

    JasonB and others: Reactor design matters. Chernobyl was an intrinsically unsafe design being run by (relative to US standards) an unregulated operator. Fukushima is a “first generation” design without passive cooling and, duh, built on a fault line and in the path of a tsunami. Nothing that pumps out 1000 MW of power will ever be 100% safe, but all reactors are not the same.

  • Peter

    Nuclear is fine if the market picks it. I’m willing to bet there’s someone in America with a lot of land who’s willing to sell the right to keep nuclear waste there.

  • Steve the Cynic

    So, you think we shouldn’t build any nuclear plants until we figure out how to safely store the dangerous waste? That problem didn’t stop us from building coal-fired plants. Worried about future generations? How long will it take for fish to have low enough levels of murcury in them (most of which was spewed by coal-burning) to be safe to feed our kids? How long will it take for CO2 levels to drop back to normal, now that we’ve ignored the greenhouse gas problem for way too long? Worried about the environmental cost of mining fissile material? What about chopping off mountain tops to get coal? Properly functioning coal power plants have have done more harm to the environment than all the nuclear reactors in history, including Chernobyl.

    Worried about safety? Try telling anyone who has served aboard an aircraft carrier or submarine lately that nuclear power is not safe.

    There is no rational reason to be more afraid of nuclear power than coal power. But people are familiar with smoke, so they’re not afraid to burn stuff; while irrational fears of radiation are easy for demagogues to stir up.

  • Steve the Cynic

    So, you think we shouldn’t build any nuclear plants until we figure out how to safely store the dangerous waste? That problem didn’t stop us from building coal-fired plants. Worried about future generations? How long will it take for fish to have low enough levels of murcury in them (most of which was spewed by coal-burning) to be safe to feed our kids? How long will it take for CO2 levels to drop back to normal, now that we’ve ignored the greenhouse gas problem for way too long? Worried about the environmental cost of mining fissile material? What about chopping off mountain tops to get coal? Properly functioning coal power plants have have done more harm to the environment than all the nuclear reactors in history, including Chernobyl.

    Worried about safety? Try telling anyone who has served aboard an aircraft carrier or submarine lately that nuclear power is not safe.

    There is no rational reason to be more afraid of nuclear power than coal power. But people are familiar with smoke, so they’re not afraid to burn stuff; while irrational fears of radiation are easy for demagogues to stir up.

  • lawrence

    No, they haven’t. During the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, a tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the ongoing level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant complex. Officials from the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported that radiation levels… outside the plant were up to 8 times above the normal levels. Radioactive contamination was found present in tap water, the soil, and outside the evacuation zone, including Tokyo. Food products were also found contaminated by radioactive matter in several places in Japan, and on 5 April 2011, the government of the Ibaraki Prefecture banned the fishing of sand lance after discovering that this species was contaminated above legal limits. In July, 2011, radioactive beef was found for sale at Tokyo markets. The greedy, morally inept, energy sector WILL NOT be able to protect all of us 24-7 if we increase nuclear power use. At some point, an accident some where, will be unpreventable, even after several safety regulations have been met, causing the death or fatal illness of several thousand people.

  • Peter

    Of course there are safety and environmental tradeoffs with coal and nuclear, but I’m not so much commenting on the safety of the power source as the idea that energy markets should be allowed to operate. We should count on property rights and free trade rather than government regulations dictating what we need to produce when. That’s how we end up with Solyndras. Government regulation only distorts the market and fuels corruption.

  • GregX

    Yes – my views have changed because I exercise my biases by taking in a wide variety of data and suffering through the pain and anguish of rational fact based analysis.

    I wish to the nth degree that the rest of the global population and specifically the politicians had that same capacity. It’s absolutely infantile that politicians spend millions of words (and millions on words) on trying to expalin that they have “ALWAYS” held some currently fashionable view of a specific topic-du-jour.

    Shut and admit that you’ve changed your mind, core thesis, previously popular positon, whatever … it would exhibit that you “Dear Politician” actually have the capacity to learn.

    Until such time … I want a “No Legislator/Congress-Person Left Behind” program started. In order for it to be effective… politicians will need to be tested once a month on the facts of a topic. They are NOT permitted to ever comment on a test until they have agreed to leave public office permanently. The test will be created and proctored by 8th graders, because Jeff Foxworthy has already trained us to think at the 5th grade level.

  • Craig

    Violent Japanese earthquakes are recurring tragedies that take thousands of lives. I think they chose to pursue nuclear power out of a vehement, mid-century, “so can we” hubris; not logic.

    We should look at mistakes in Japan and the Soviet Union and ask if we might make the same. But to be paralyzed by fear, and continue to accept the millions of person years spent chasing, extracting and transporting more and more combustibles, and further accept the billions of tons of byproducts they produce, seems unduly timid and equally illogical.

  • JasonB

    Discussions have pointed out the pros and cons mostly in comparison to other forms of ‘dirty’ power generation like coal. The long term, cumulative effects of fossil fuel burning are weighed against a singular, potentially catastrophic event of a nuclear plant accident. While these points are sound and I do not disagree, I still do not have a strong feeling one way or the other. This is because I am still a bit uneasy when the best one can say about nuclear power is that it’s no worse than burning coal.

    I guess my attitude has been changing. I used to think nuclear power was pretty cool, but then Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the ongoing waste repository issues gave me pause for thought. It doesn’t help me to decide when I hear how we have to start building nuclear plants immediately to reduce greenhouse gas production – I feel like I’m being given a pressure sales pitch. And when it’s the power industry, the ones who stand the most to gain, who are telling us that it’s “completely safe” now, the hair on the back of my neck rises a bit.

    I also find it interesting how ecology minded people have changed their perceptions regarding nuclear power, now viewing it as a clean alternative that is relatively good for the environment. Blame global warming for that change, a shift away from concern over radioactive waste.

    I love technology, and I still like the idea of nuclear power. It’s just that expediency to do something now makes me realize how our collective opinions have changed. And since the ‘Question’ is about changes in attitudes it appears that the old fear about nuclear power is becoming an outdated attitude.

  • Scott

    There is no free lunch…..

  • Mike Curran

    I was neutral or apposed to nuclear in the past. Safety was my concern.

    The new reactor designs are geared to safety. The AP1000 was designed to cool down even without power unlike the Fukushima reactors.

    Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactors (LFTR ) will be even safer.

    We can easily take electricity for granted. Nuclear provides the only base load power that does not contribute to green house gasses. It is ready to go all the time even without the wind blowing or the sun shining.

  • Douglas Burt

    My view has not changed much for a long time. Nuclear power promised huge advantages. So we started using it confident we would solve the remaining problems as we went along, as we always have done. Except this time we didn’t. We still don’t have a satisfactory solution for the toxic byproduct. I’m afraid we still have to go slow until we find an answer everyone is comfortable with.