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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Explaining atomic potential of nuclear energy

Published: October 16, 2014
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

As members of the global community, we are facing the imminent threat of climate change. Combating this threat will require a combined effort to change and to find various solutions that benefit each locality as best they can. When one mentions green energy, the first things that come to mind are probably solar and wind power, since they’re the most visible. Geothermal and hydroelectric are also considered, but from there, most begin to stop and ponder what else is actually green energy. Many will then consider biofuels and burning trash as decent sources of power, however there is one major source of power missing from this list, one which has the potential to save us.

Nuclear energy is vastly misunderstood. What many people think of when they first hear the word “nuclear” is the bomb. While this is a prominent (and terrifying) use of nuclear technology, it is not the only one. Not only does it have one of the lowest carbon outputs of any energy source, being just above wind power and somewhat below solar, but also it supplies a steady current of electricity, something that solar panels and wind farms struggle at doing. However, nuclear energy has not had the best reputation since the dawn of the environmentalist movement in the 1960s. After the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in 1979 and 1986, respectively, people began to fear that any reactor had the potential to violently explode and spread radiation over large swaths of land. In recent years, the modern environmentalist movement has begun to accept nuclear power. However, passive acceptance will not save the planet; only active support can do that.

The anti-nuclear movement is still very strong. Most recently, protesters attempted to prematurely shut down the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Not only would this shutdown have a significant economic impact on Vermont and its surrounding states, increasing the cost of electricity as the nuclear power is replaced with natural gas. It will also cause a significant increase in the pollution and carbon footprint New England. People in favor of the closure of the plant had signs which said “Vt. Yankee Fallout Zone” which were painted yellow and black with the traditional radioactive waste symbol on them. While they may seem clever, they demonstrate a grave misunderstanding of how nuclear reactors work. A modern nuclear reactor would require extenuating circumstance to explode the way Chernobyl did. Chernobyl did not have a containment building because it was a very old reactor type.

The Brandeis campus is a fairly progressive and thoughtful one. It’s safe to assume that most students here support becoming more environmentally sustainable, both as individuals and as a society. Yet a common trend among environmentalists is to be antinuclear, and this must change. Nuclear energy is not only a vital project for humanity, but it also just might be what saves us from the impending environmental destruction. So ask yourself: What side are you on?