Is Our Energy Future Nuclear?
Welcome to the Podcast!
Greetings, our valued readers, and welcome to this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution! We’re coming at you from New Jersey Revolution Radio, New Jersey’s one and only socialist podcast. Make sure to follow us on all of your social media, and with that said, let’s dive right into the discussion. Today, we are going to be talking about nuclear energy, which is something that might piss a lot of you off! However, it needs to be talked about because it is important to identify misinformation that hinders our progress as a society, even if it ruffles some feathers.
As readers probably well know, we here at New Jersey Revolution Radio are aligned with environmental activism. This means that we are against the burning of fossil fuels, which is a process that is contributing to the destruction of our planet, which is inevitable if we continue to use them. This brings up a question: how can we meet our energy needs when renewable resources often don’t cut it and fossil fuels destroy the Earth?
Today’s special guest is here to help us answer this question. Al has been working in the nuclear power industry for several years now. Al is not a particularly high-level worker in his field; he’s not an executive trying to profit off of opinion change. At one point, he was a senior reactor operator at a plant. He has 20 years experience in the field of nuclear energy. He worked for 10 years in the Navy and 10 years in the civilian world.
Al has held many different positions in the nuclear power field. In one of those positions, he was responsible for the safe and proper maintenance of a reactor on a submarine. He describes the job as stressful because of the constant work required, including monitoring and testing. He describes an industry standard of taking the work very, very seriously.
Workers in the field are well aware that some of the materials that they work with are inherently dangerous. Therefore, they do as much as they can to make sure that they operate safely and without accident. The health and safety of the public is the priority of workers in the industry.
Preconceptions and Misinformation
Even though there is so much emphasis placed on protecting public health when working with nuclear energy, public perception is often negative. This is in large part because many people’s minds go to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Al is well aware of these preconceptions and offers relevant information.
Foreign nuclear reactors are run in a significantly different way than U.S. nuclear reactors. They use different cooling materials: in Russia, the material used would heat up as it became more reactive, while in the United States, the opposite is true. At Chernobyl, the operators were running procedure outside of the standard and running in a way that no other facility was willing to. They were running tests without the proper clearance and safety protocols. In the United States, we use water in our nuclear reactors. If things are overheating or going above power limits, the system will tend to shut itself down.
On Three Mile Island, everything that could have gone wrong did. They lost feedwater, their alternate water feed’s valve was misplaced, and, as the system was cooling down, a relief valve lifted and was never reset. The workers in the control room were under the impression that the valve was shut and acted accordingly. Altogether, it was a collection of unfortunate circumstances that lead to an accident that killed nobody. As a result of the occurrence, people living near the island received approximately one-sixth of a medical X-ray’s worth of radiation.
Learning from Mistakes
Whenever there was an accident, lessons were learned to make things safer. The industry was forever changed after that incident. Safety protocol and training programs were rewritten. One out of every five weeks on the job at a nuclear plant is spent training. Al reports that even with 20 years of experience under his belt, he is often one of the less experienced employees onboard at most of his jobs. There are very frequent inspections of infrastructure. If it is found that an incident would be likely to occur even once in ten thousand years, this issue is considered serious and addressed immediately. If the issue’s likeliness goes any higher than that, operation is halted.
Many people have questions about cooling pools. These are the areas in which spent radioactive material created by nuclear energy facilities are deposited as waste. Al addresses concerns that many people have about these areas. First off, the waste material cannot leak into the water supply. The majority of the waste is kept in a pool with a sealed liner in a building at the site. Currently, facilities are implementing a dry casket system in which the waste is placed in large concrete barrels, which are sealed and then stored in a landing pad. These are the standard practices of all of the nuclear plants in the United States.
Renewable Vs Nuclear
Many of those who rightfully disdain the environmental destructiveness of the fossil fuel industry see renewable energy as the alternative. To be fair, we must acknowledge that every form of energy gathering actually takes some sort of toll on the environment, even if it is to a much lesser extent. After all, uranium needs to be mined and wind turbines do not magically sprout up on mountaintops.
Objectively, renewable energy is still a much better solution to energy needs than fossil fuels in an environmental sense. However, there are limitations to renewable energy. For example, if the wind isn’t blowing your turbines or the sun isn’t shining on your panels, energy will not be created.
To be truly effective, renewable energy sources must either have an enormous battery capacity, or there must be a source of backup/supplemental power. It would be nice if renewable energy could be the country’s baseline power source, however, sadly, the technology is not there yet. That’s an example of where nuclear energy shines as compared to fossil fuels. Additionally, nuclear plants generate an astounding and consistent amount of energy. Al shares that the smallest nuclear plant generates approximately as much power as the largest natural gas plant.
The Future Of Nuclear Energy
Right now, nuclear energy is in a rough spot, with many plants being shut down. This is largely due to public perception. Whenever you see nuclear power in the movies or television, the scenario is usually a dramatic misrepresentation where nuclear is killing everybody. There is also an association between nuclear bombs and nuclear energy, even though these involve two very different processes.
There is a nuclear plant being built in Georgia right now. Al hopes that this plant’s success will spark a renewed appreciation for nuclear energy. Al believes that people would benefit from open, honest discussion about their concerns about nuclear power. If people want to learn more accurate information about the nuclear industry, they can visit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission website.
Thank you so much to Al for this enlightening discussion! To our listeners, we appreciate you more than you can ever know. We know that this episode may have pissed some people off, and that is okay because we are striving to create a constructive discussion. It is so incredibly important to come at these issues from a perspective of scientific truth.
Unfortunately, mainstream media do not cover many of these issues: that’s where we come in. We are here to be a voice for the activist community and for those whose stories are never shared in the mainstream media. We never take payments from corporations, including those in the nuclear industry! Our only message is the truth and we depend solely on donations from people like you. We truly appreciate anything you can give — no matter how small the amount, especially in these trying times. The future is yours to create, so go out there and create it!
-Leah Giannantonio, for New Jersey Revolution Radio