As I write this, it’s Nuclear Science Week! Nuclear science and engineering play a crucial role in our lives, but that role is often hidden. Nuclear medicine provides tens of millions of diagnostic and therapeutic treatments annually and nuclear energy provides clean and reliable electricity for 20 percent of the U.S. grid.
People often associate "nuclear" with bombs or meltdowns, but nuclear energy has enabled disarmament by converting tens of thousands of warheads into electricity and nuclear energy is safer than every other type of electricity generation. Used nuclear fuel is also a common concern, but nuclear generation uses 1/500th the materials per unit of electricity as coal and 1/13th the materials as wind and solar. That means 13 to 500 times less mining and manufacturing impact.
If respected health journals like The Lancet (Markandya and Wilkinson 2007) are any guide, replacing Oregon’s sole remaining coal plant in Boardman with a NuScale nuclear plant would save 42 local people from air pollution death, prevent 4,800 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides released to the air and 143,000 tons of fly ash accumulation, and provide three times more on-demand electricity each year. Those sound like pretty good reasons to support nuclear energy and our state’s homegrown nuclear technology.
Set your preconceptions aside and go to whatisnuclear.com to find out more about how nuclear makes our lives better.
Corvallis (Oct. 17)
The writer is a graduate student in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University.