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Environmental Studies

Nuclear Power in America



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Nuclear Energy in America

The Controversy

nuclear towers 

What is the real issue? The controversy over using nuclear power to create commercial energy is not about how much energy can be produced but is, in the eyes of the public, about safety. There is a long history of movements against nuclear power industry, not because people think the technology can’t fulfill its purpose, but because it makes them afraid. They do not, and cannot, know all of the risks involved in the production of this kind of energy or the transportation of its waste. The public doesn’t know the specific probabilities of failures that could occur. They don’t know them, and they aren’t concerned with the specifics, because without knowing the statistics, their common sense tells them that this technology is taken from Nielsen-Wurster Group Nuclear radiation is powerful and destructive, and though power plants go to great lengths to ensure that the radiation is contained, mistakes inevitably occur. Everyone knows that there are almost no arenas in this world in which mistakes cannot and do not occur. To the American public, when human health is potentially at stake, a low probability of failure is nearly as frightening as a high one, because if there is any chance at all of disaster, be it 5% or 15%, there is fear. The public in the United States does not do risk-analysis for itself and its neighborhoods; the public expects total safety.

In the New York Science Times on February 27, 2007, a man named Stewart Brand was introduced. He is a self-proclaimed proponent of what the article calls “environmental heresies.” These include his opinions on issues like genetically modified foods and nuclear energy use. His ideas about nuclear energy are quite optimistic. He concedes that there is cause for concern, but also vehemently believes in consolidation of pollution and hazardous waste into guarded, regulated programs. In Brand’s mind, the positives outweigh the potential negatives. “There were legitimate reasons to worry about nuclear power, but now that we know about the threat of climate change, we have to put the risks in perspective,” he says. “Sure, nuclear waste is a problem, but the great thing about it is you know where it is and you can guard it. The bad thing about coal waste is that you don’t know where it is and youdon’t know what it’s doing. The carbon dioxide is in everybody’s atmosphere” (Tierney). This point has made a lot of people re-think their negative attitudes on nuclear technology. Now that the public is starting to realize the truth about global climate change, Brand has a lot of people on his side, and yet the United States has stopped building more of these power plants. The number of plants has not risen from 104 since 1998, and in fact, has decreased from 112 just eight years before that. (U.S. Census Bureau) Why is the country divided on this issue? Take a closer look.

Site by Carlye Sikkink

Last updated:  5/7/2007


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