Three Mile Island: Are nuclear plants necessary?
When the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant closed last week, it marked the end of an era, said Ledyard King in USA Today. On March 28, 1979, two pumps and a valve in Unit 2 of the Pennsylvania plant malfunctioned, causing a partial meltdown of the core that led 140,000 nearby residents to flee. Only a small amount of radioactivity was released into the atmosphere, and nobody died or was hurt. But the accident occurred almost simultaneously with the release of the film The China Syndrome, which depicts a major nuclear plant disaster, and the panic caused by Three Mile Island put the industry into a long decline. Plans for 39 U.S. plants were scrapped. With carbon-free energy in desperate demand, however, some climate change experts are now arguing that nuclear power might deserve a second chance.
That argument is based on a “faulty assumption,” said Naomi Oreskes in the Los Angeles Times, which is that there’s no path to achieve “zero net CO2 emissions without re-embracing nuclear power.” Solar and wind could replace both nuclear and fossil fuel sources of power if the U.S. upgrades its electricity grid so that power can be easily moved from places where it is sunny and/or windy to places where it is not. Nuclear power is extremely expensive and also poses “enormous” environmental risks, said Todd Larsen in USAToday.com. Mining uranium pollutes soil and water, and nuclear plants create radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. “It’s time we gave up on the delusion of nuclear power as a solution to climate change.”
If climate change truly is an “existential threat,” said David Roberts in Vox.com, then any alternative to fossil fuels should be on the table. The 59 nuclear plants now operating in 30 states “provide about 20 percent of U.S. electricity.” When plants are shut down, either here or abroad, they’re usually replaced by plants using natural gas or coal, so at the very minimum, existing nukes should remain open “as long as possible.” Since Three Mile Island, there hasn’t been a major accident at a U.S. nuclear plant, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. New technology that makes nuclear plants far safer is “too promising to ignore.” There may be risks involved, but the climate crisis calls for a “Hail Mary.” ■