Is it time for a new source of power?

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Is it time for a new source of power?

Amy Paine, Copy Editor

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Nuclear power has been a key part of St. Joseph’s infrastructure for decades. However, many people believe nuclear energy may not be the best option for the area. No power source is perfect, and there are issues concerning nuclear power, including sustainability, safety, and environmental concerns. Some think that wind or solar power could be a better option than nuclear energy, just as I used to. However, I now think that we’re not yet prepared to switch to what you might call “renewable energy.”

If you grew up in St. Joseph, you’ve probably taken at least one field trip to the Cook Nuclear Plant. The power plant generates enough energy for 1.5 million homes, employs 1,200 people, and makes numerous donations to community organizations. This is just one reason to keep nuclear power around (for now). Compared to fossil fuels, nuclear energy emits little to no greenhouse gas. This makes nuclear energy much more environmentally friendly than the United States’ main power sources (petroleum, natural gas, and coal). Mr. Bill Downey, Cook Nuclear Plant’s Communications Manager, says that nuclear energy is the most efficient source of power currently available. “While renewable energy sources such as wind and solar also play an important part of the mix, they are only reliable when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.”

Nuclear power constitutes the fewest deaths per year of any electricity source. Although any nuclear plant has the capacity to go into meltdown, current safety measures make it nearly impossible for a single error to cause a catastrophic event. Cook Nuclear Plant has a number of safety measures in place. “The most important thing we must do is manage the reaction and keep radiation from the public. The reaction is managed by our operators, who go through a rigorous 18-month training program before they can be certified. After that, every six weeks, they re-train and re-test in order to be able to retain that license,” Mr. Downey said.

Nuclear power plants also do not emit radiation during normal use. Used nuclear fuel is stored in a waste pool under 25 feet of carefully cooled water, then moved to huge steel and concrete tanks for longer-term storage. These tanks lock in enough of the radiation produced that you would experience no adverse effects after touching them for over an hour.

There are dangers related to any method of producing power, but those related to nuclear power are fresh in the world’s mind after the nuclear threats of the past half-century. However, this doesn’t mean that nuclear meltdown is any more common than other disastrous events.

The risks associated with nuclear power can be nearly eliminated by strict regulation and careful safety measures. “Power producers have to pass and maintain the highest standards imaginable for both safety and reliability in order to have the right to operate a nuclear facility. In a few places of the world, those standards aren’t always as well defined. Although as an industry, nuclear is open and cooperative, helping every producer everywhere at every opportunity to improve, you can’t force everyone to be cooperative in their pursuit of success,” said Mr. Downey.

Eventually, we will run out of the uranium used to generate nuclear power. Before that, we’ll run out of safe places to store the radioactive waste produced. Nuclear energy is by no means a permanent solution. However, there are many problems that keep people around the world from switching to wind, solar, or hydroelectric: cost, space, efficiency, zoning regulations, job security for power plant workers, and more. Until we have a better solution to each of those problems, nuclear energy is our best option.