Nuclear Power’s Place in an Uncertain Energy and Changing Climate World

by Joe Mirabella

For millennium no one knew how the sun worked. Then in 1905 Albert Einstein discovered that energy and mass were interchangeable with his famous formula, energy equals mass times the speed of light squared (E=MC2). In other words, a little mass can give a whole lot of energy. In the 1930’s it was discovered that if you bombard Uranium 235 with neutrons you create a chain reaction which can unleash that energy. This led to the development of the atomic bomb in WWII.

In 1955 the navy developed the first nuclear powered submarine. That technology was developed to generate electricity that is now operating approximately 430 nuclear power plants in the world, around 100 in the U.S. generating around 20% of our electricity. However, starting in the 60’s and 70’s, concern developed regarding the safety of these nuclear plants and the long term disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste. The nuclear accidents at 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima and the failure establish a long term nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada has rightfully fed into these legitimate concerns.

However alarms over the environmental effects of global warming resulting from massive CO2 emissions have led some environmentalist to reevaluate the relative dangers of nuclear power. Nuclear power plants emit no CO2 or any air pollution. Estimates vary but air pollution from burning fossil fuels for electricity kills around 1.5 million people a year worldwide from stokes, heart disease, COPD, cancers, asthma and other diseases (WHO). Coal is a particularly destructive source of energy not just from air pollution but from mining and disposal of millions of tons of toxic coal ash.

The Chernobyl accident accounts for all documented deaths from all nuclear accidents at around 78. Long term increased cancers from low level radiation spread from Chernobyl and Fukushima (none from 3 Mile Island) are difficult to measure and estimates vary widely from zero to thousands spread over decades but nowhere near that from burning fossil fuels.

All nuclear power plants are not the same. The Chernobyl reactor was a terrible, dangerous design that no longer exists and the Fukushima plant had major serious design flaws that could not handle the tsunami that struck it. Modern existing designs are far safer and more efficient and there are many advanced experimental designs that would eclipse even those. Fusion nuclear reactors promise unlimited clean energy from seawater with no nuclear waste and no possibility of a nuclear accident.

Long term storage of nuclear waste does not yet exist but existing intermediate term storage in concrete and steel silos could provide indefinite safe storage. Radioactive decay continuously reduces the dangers that these wastes pose. Existing and advanced nuclear reactor designs could use nuclear waste as fuel to greatly reduce or eliminate radioactive waste.

In conclusion: Nuclear energy has its risks that need to be evaluated seriously but its 60 year record is far less environmentally dangerous and destructive than burning fossil fuels. Existing nuclear power plants should be kept in operation and modernized whenever possible. New nuclear power plants may not be financially viable, at least in the short run, because of the current abundance of cheap natural gas unless there is a carbon tax or carbon credits. Later in this century fusion power may provide mankind with unlimited clean and safe energy but until then energy conservation, improved efficiency and renewable energies like solar are always the best way to go.

This is an overview of a presentation given by the Ewing Green Team’s Joe Mirabella.  For more information and to arrange for a presentation contact  him at ewinggreenteam@gmail.com.  Look for the slide show with presentation highlights coming soon.

Is it Time to Go Nuclear?

by Joanne Mullowney

The Ewing Green Team and Environmental Commission announce the latest entry in their Environmental Insights Series, environmental presentations designed to engage Ewing residents in a public conversation about critical environmental issues and to spark new ideas concerning sustainability.   Join us on Monday, April 20th at 7 pm for our program, Is it Time to Go Nuclear: Nuclear Power’s Role In A World Of Climate Change And Energy Needs with a presentation and discussion led by Joe Mirabella, Central Regional Supervisor for the NJDEP Hazardous Waste Enforcement program and member of the Ewing Green Team and Environmental Commission.

The Issues

The world’s atmosphere and climate are quickly undergoing dramatic changes. 2014 was the hottest year on record with records being routinely broken. These changes are not just going to affect future generations but are here today. How we deal with them may be the most important environmental issue we face.  A major question for our time is where how does nuclear power fit in?  Is it a savior for climate change or a catastrophic disaster waiting to happen?

In Is it Time to Go Nuclear the role of nuclear power now and in the future will be explored and discussed.  It is not pro or anti-nuclear energy. It is a fun fact-based entertaining exploration of the complex issues surrounding nuclear power. The specific topics include historical background, how nuclear power works, radiation, nuclear disasters, proliferation & terrorism, nuclear waste and advanced technologies. The presentation will be followed by a community discussion where all opinions are respected and welcome.

About Joe Mirabella

Joe Mirabella is the Central Regional Supervisor for the NJDEP Hazardous Waste Enforcement program. He has taught and lectured on environmental issues at NJ Colleges and Universities for the last 35 years. He is a Commissioner on the Ewing Township Redevelopment Agency and is a member of Ewing’s Environmental Commission & Green Team. Joe earned his Bachelor and Masters of Science in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and is a Certified Public Manager from the Rutgers Graduate School of Management.

Date: Monday, April 20th
Time: 7 pm
Location: Ewing Senior and Community Center [ESCC] – Community Room
Cost: This event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.