Is Nuclear Power Safe Today? A Comprehensive Look at the Evidence

For over six decades, nuclear energy has been a reliable and safe source of electricity generation. The risk of accidents at nuclear power plants is low and decreasing, and the consequences of an accident or terrorist attack are minimal compared to other accepted risks. Nuclear power plants are among the safest and most secure facilities in the world. However, accidents can occur that have a negative impact on people and the environment.

To reduce the likelihood of an accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) helps Member States apply international safety standards to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants. Nuclear power sources are dangerous because they emit particles of radiation and energy released from unstable molecules that try to calm down. These radioactive particles can affect the human body and damage cells or DNA, according to David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Enough radiation can cause cancer or even transmit genetic mutations to your children.

Too much radiation can kill you directly. The nuclear industry is proud to have safety in its DNA, meaning that safety is its top priority and that every decision, step and precaution is based on this approach. The industry continues to be recognized as one of the safest industrial work environments in the nation. If you ever visit a nuclear plant, you will immediately see the industry's commitment to safety.

Layer after layer of redundant and diverse security systems are part of an approach to security called “defense in depth”. This means that there are several overlapping safety levels designed to prevent the accidental release of radiation. Some of these barriers include rods that coat the reactor's uranium fuel, huge steel vessels and pipes that contain fuel rods and cooling systems, and a highly robust building that houses the reactor, made of steel-reinforced concrete several feet thick. In-depth defense essentially means that there are many things that keep nuclear plants and neighboring communities safe. But the nuclear industry goes one step further to ensure that plants not only meet, but exceed, standards created by the federal government. An independent third party called the Nuclear Energy Operations Institute (INPO) was formed to establish best practices and conduct regular evaluations of plant performance in terms of safety and operations.

INPO's mission is to promote the highest levels of safety and reliability to promote excellence in plant operation. The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) does similar work internationally. Nuclear power plants consistently receive high WANO and INPO ratings and safety levels continue to rise. Multiple and overlapping safety systems, commitment to safety culture and training, an independent regulator, and peer review organizations such as INPO are part of the many elements that ensure that nuclear plants operate safely and intelligently. Study after study in leading scientific journals found that nuclear power plants are by far the safest way to produce reliable electricity. So why are we so afraid of them? Nuclear energy, for example, causes 99.9% fewer deaths than brown coal; 99.8% less than coal; 99.7% less than oil; and 97.6% less than gas.

Wind and solar energy are equally safe. A nuclear power accident can make an entire region uninhabitable, have a negative effect on the environment for years to come, kill thousands of people, create increased cancer rates in nearby communities, kill endangered fish stocks (depending on their location), destroy food supplies stores, etc. This contrasts with traditional nuclear reactors, which naturally heat up and melt if not actively cooled. The United States prides itself on its strong culture of Nuclear Safety, as they developed technology correctly unlike others who tried to cut corners. If you don't think climate change is a major threat to civilization, just be honest about it and admit that you have another agenda that causes you to oppose nuclear energy but only push for solar and wind energy. This could explain why fear of nuclear energy persists and why past mortality rates may surprise you. So much so that Harvard Professor David Keith admitted that the common joke in the nuclear industry is “just five more years”.The most common answer to this question is that nuclear accidents on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima frightened people. There is no doubt that nuclear energy has problems that can cost human lives, but those risks are borne by all major modes of energy production. This smug little theory that people who don't support nuclear energy simply don't have much education needs serious revision. The truth is that there have been many accidents at nuclear power plants that have caused radioactive waste to be spilled into the environment.