What is the safety of nuclear energy?

But even if high-profile disasters are taken into account, nuclear energy is very safe (see box). A terawatt-hour (TWh) of electricity from nuclear energy is associated with 0.03 deaths (including indirect deaths from disasters and industrial accidents at plants). Nuclear power plants maintain the highest standards of operational safety, cybersecurity and emergency preparedness. Comprehensive industry safety procedures and strict federal regulations keep our plants and neighboring communities safe.

Nuclear power sources are dangerous because they emit particles of radiation and energy released from unstable molecules that try to calm down. Those radioactive missiles can impact the human body and damage cells or DNA, says David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. A sufficient amount of radiation will cause cancer or, possibly, even transmit genetic mutations to your children. Too much can kill you directly.

Study after study in major 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? I am just recognizing that problems with nuclear energy can be exaggerated by many and that its benefits are underestimated. It wasn't until the late 1970s that detailed analysis and large-scale testing, followed by the 1979 merger of the Three Mile Island reactor, began to make clear that even the worst possible accident at a conventional Western nuclear power plant or its fuel would not cause dramatic public harm. A fundamental principle of the operation of nuclear power plants around the world is that the operator is responsible for safety.

Nuclear power plants require enormous amounts of fossil fuel energy to build and a certain amount to maintain; hydroelectric systems also have an enormous initial requirement for fossil fuel energy; wind energy systems also, but to a lesser extent. The truth is that there have been many accidents at nuclear power plants that have caused radioactive waste to be spilled into the environment. The main proposal for long-term storage of nuclear waste is to bury it in carefully selected deep geological deposits. Generation IV reactors (with an output of around 1000 megawatts) and small modular reactors (SMR) are considered the nuclear power plants of the future.

Apparently, during the Cold War, neither Russia nor the United States attacked the other party's nuclear power plants because the potential damage would be modest. Therefore, the question should not be: “Is nuclear energy deadly?” Instead, we must ask ourselves “is nuclear energy more dangerous than other energy sources?” Unlike power plants powered by fossil fuels, nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or carbon dioxide while they are in operation. Despite public concerns, the data clearly show that nuclear energy is a much safer source of energy than fossil fuels. The main positive outcome of this accident for the industry was the formation of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which was based on US precedent.

A major environmental concern related to nuclear energy is the creation of radioactive waste such as tailings from uranium mills, spent (used) reactor fuel and other radioactive waste. The estimates shown in Figure 3 include loss of life from historic nuclear power plant disasters.